Survey shows Title IX compliance still needs work

Survey shows Title IX compliance still needs work

(Calif.) An assessment of how well schools are complying with a landmark federal anti-discrimination law indicates that although most districts are implementing the law, but of a lack of understanding or resources there’s an uneven application.

The assessment, conducted by members of the California Title IX Coalition, focused on four areas: sexual harassment policies, accessibility of Title IX coordinators, schooling options for pregnant students, and athletics.

“The key point is not one area but uneven implementation,” said Kate Karpilow, executive director of California Center for Research on Women and Families, the organization that convened the coalition.

“The conclusion that we can draw pretty strongly is that implementation was uneven in every high school that our community teams looked at,” she said. “Implementation wasn’t systematic, and there weren’t always tools to help administrators and other school officials actually understand and put into practice this important law that facilitates more opportunities for girls.”

Title IX prohibits discrimination based on sex in educational agencies that receive federal funding. Although typically brought up in discussions about unequal opportunities in women’s athletics, the law also requires that schools have a Title IX coordinator to handle complaints and address concerns if related issues arise, and that they have policies in place to combat sexual harassment as well as discrimination against pregnant students.

According to the coalition, although the sample size of the voluntary assessment is small and can’t be used for broad generalizations, it does show that more thorough implementation of the law is still necessary in some places.

Results of the assessment showed that of the nine high schools assessed, five did not publicize information about contacting the Title IX coordinator, while four did so either online or in printed material. In addition to making coordinators’ contact information readily available on district and school websites, the coalition also recommends posting that person’s responsibilities and the process for initiating a Title IX complaint.

All nine of the high schools had sexual harassment policies in place, and although two-thirds of them took multiple steps to convey that information to students and families, only a few sufficiently and uniformly trained teachers and administrators to properly carry them out.

Among the recommendations were ideas such as making complaint forms confidential and available online, offering annual training sessions on sexual harassment policies and associated complaint procedures, and providing information about such policies in both English and other languages for parents.

How schools handle the education goals of pregnant students seems to be a bright spot, with all nine schools reporting that alternative or independent programs for pregnant teens were available and were of equal quality as mainstream education, aside from a few unavailable Advanced Placement courses or access to lab facilities. It was noted, however, that these students were allowed access to the mainstream programs as well.

The coalition recommends a push to provide those AP courses and for a requirement that schools submit annual statistics documenting the number of pregnant teens enrolled, whether they are educated in mainstream or specialized programs, and their graduation rates.

Only seven of the high schools underwent assessment in athletics, and the results showed that although strides have been made, none of the sites appeared to have equal facilities, fairness in game and practice scheduling, or proportional participation, meaning that the number of girls taking part in athletic programming was not proportionate to overall female enrollment at each school.

Beginning in the 2015-16 school year, districts will be required to post information about athletic participation, broken down by gender, on their websites. Easier accessibility of this information could give teachers, administrators and school board members a clearer picture of how they must progress in addressing the issue.

“Thirty or 40 years ago there was always a pushback on Title IX [such as] ‘What is this going to mean for our football team?’ And that just isn’t the case anymore,” Karpilow said. “We are at a time when parents want their daughters to succeed and [they] understand that sports are essential for developing self-esteem and opening up opportunities for college. The old days of concern about the implications of Title IX are pretty much over, and now we’re looking at the ‘how’ of implementation.”