Complaints at Blaine and other schools spark statewide Title IX compliance review

Published on Wed, Aug 24, 2011 by Jeremy Schwartz

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A complaint against the Blaine school district alleging it does not provide the same opportunities for girls competing in high school sports compared to boys has been closed in favor of a statewide review of districts that have had similar complaints filed against them.

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in Seattle, an agency within the U.S. Department of Education, has fielded 125 complaints since November 2010 alleging that 48 school districts across the state have violated federal Title IX regulations, which require school districts to present female high school students with the same athletic opportunities as male high school students. Nearby school districts that had complaints filed against them include Anacortes and Mount Vernon.

While all complaints against individual school districts have been closed, the OCR has started a larger review of the way the Washington state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) handles Title IX issues. Specifically, OCR will scrutinize how OSPI ensures the accuracy of the athletic participation reports Washington’s school districts submit and how OSPI handles Title IX violation complaints.

The current makeup of Blaine High School’s student athletes is 60 percent boys and 40 percent girls, said Wayne Vezzetti, the school’s vice principal and athletic director. With the high school’s total population approximately 53 percent boys and 48 percent girls, the level of disparity between the school athletic participation numbers and the total population is about 8 percent.

The amount of district resources, such as training facilities and coaches’ pay, is just about equal between boys’ and girls’ sports programs, he added.

While not ideal, Vezzetti said 8 percent disparity is on par with the school districts surrounding Blaine and is an improvement from last year’s 11 percent. He said the high school is always intent on working to improve female athlete participation numbers.

“We’ve got some work to do,” Vezzetti said.

A key reason for the disparity is Blaine’s high school football program, which typically sees 90 boys participating per season. The school district does not have a girls’ sport with a comparable level of participation.

The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA), which governs the state’s high school sports, has suggested school districts decrease their disparity levels by cutting boys from specific teams, eliminating boys’ sports programs or adding girls’ sports programs. Adding programs for girls is the most likely remedy for the Blaine school district, but a new program’s success depends on how many girls participate, Vezzetti said.

“We have the same number of girls’ and boys’ sports, just not enough girls participating,” he said.

Dan Steelquist, the coach of Blaine High School’s girls’ varsity soccer team, said interest in girls’ soccer fluctuates from year to year, but he has seen a steady increase since he started coaching the varsity team 15 years ago. There was only one high school girl playing soccer for Blaine when he started, and she was on the boys’ team.

To increase participation on his team, Steelquist said he encourages his girls to take a more active role in the community, which includes helping coach the girls’ youth soccer teams in the district. He said the head coach of one of the youth teams regularly brings her players to Steelquist’s practices, and he’s confident most of those girls will come to play for him once they reach high school.

Blaine High School currently has eight sports each for boys and girls and could follow the lead of other high schools by adding sports that the WIAA does not officially sanction, such as bowling and badminton. Girls participating in these sports would help decrease the school district’s disparity, as long as these teams competed against other high schools, Vezzetti explained.

Though popular, the WIAA does not consider cheerleading a sport because cheerleading teams do not compete against other schools.
As requested, the sch
ool district will forward its athletic participation data to OSPI. The athletic department will also distribute an athletic interest survey to students in eighth through 10th grade once the school year starts. These surveys, which the district conducts every three years, gather data on what sports students are playing and help determine why students are not playing sports if they choose not to participate.

“It will give us a good idea what the interest level is,” Vezzetti said.