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Title IX lawsuit could change athletic landscape of Henry County

 

By Monroe Roark
Times Correspondent
 

  The athletic landscape of the Henry County School System could change dramatically in the next three years.

  In reaction to a federal lawsuit, the school district is currently surveying female students to gauge their interest in the possible addition of two sports to the calendar – gymnastics and lacrosse.

  Those two sports, plus swimming, are the only GHSA-sanctioned sports not already offered in Henry County public schools, according to Vicki Davis, the district’s athletics supervisor. This includes boys and girls.

  This is especially noteworthy, Davis said, due to the fact that six of the county’s nine high schools opened in a 10-year period during the 2000s.

  “Every time a new school opened, we offered everything to that – a full flight of everything we offered at other schools,” she said.

  However, when the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights took at look at the statistics regarding athletic participation, that office found that a higher percentage of boys were competing than girls, as much as 22 percent more at some individual schools. This conclusion was made looking purely at the numbers, Davis said, and there was no real slight of female students.

  “We were putting the offerings out there, but you can’t make boys or girls sign up for sports they don’t want to participate in,” she said. “We may have a handful of kids who weren’t satisfied with their options, but out of 17,000 high school students we have not had an overwhelming number of complaints.”

  There are occasional requests from students that the district simply cannot accommodate, such as a recent inquiry about the possibility of an equestrian team. “I think that’s a great sport, but there is not nearly enough demand to justify offering it in our high schools,” said Davis.

  A Title IX lawsuit was filed in response to the findings of the Office of Civil Rights. Title IX is a federal civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination in education. One result of the lawsuit, which was settled last October, is a new interest survey for girls in grades 8 and up, which Davis acknowledged had not been done in a while.

  The survey was conducted to determine which of the three sanctioned sports not currently offered would be worth exploring. Gymnastics and lacrosse were the top vote-getters, although a number of students expressed interest in swimming as well, Davis said.

  She is now in the process of going to each of the high schools and meeting with specific students who expressed interest. The settlement requires looking at each school individually – students up through 11th grade in addition to eighth-graders at each high school’s feeder school.

  For instance, the most popular choice at Union Grove High School was lacrosse, where Davis has met with girls in grades 8-11 who chose lacrosse on the survey. Her next step there will be to meet with parents and see how serious they are about supporting their students in a new sport.

  The school district is required to consider whether there is sufficient interest, and must offer a sport for which there is sufficient interest, Davis said.

  The terms of the settlement cover the next three school years.

  While the complaint is based upon female participation and school system officials are focusing there, the boys will not be left out, Davis said. Also, while the interest in swimming was not at the level of the other two sports, it could be at a later time.

  The settlement does not dictate that the school system do a survey every year, but officials could perform another one during the 2014-15 school year to make sure they are continuing to have accurate results.

  “We really want to meet the needs of our kids,” said Davis, “so we need to keep a finger on the pulse of what those needs might be.”

 

 

©Henry County Times, Inc.