Wednesday, September 13, 2000

Title IX lawsuit expanded

Boone case certified as class action

By Susan Vela
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — Female Boone County school students — present and future — will be covered under a federal Title IX lawsuit filed last spring alleging that the Northern Kentucky school district is not providing girls with the same athletic opportunities as boys.

        U.S. District Judge William O. Bertelsman ruled Monday that the lawsuit involving three sets of Boone County parents — and the first Tristate school district to ever be charged with Title IX violations — deserved class-action certification.

  • What happened: U.S. District Judge William O. Bertelsman said a Title IX lawsuit alleging gender discrimination in athletics at Boone County Schools deserved class-action certification.
  • What it means: All present and future female students of the county's schools are covered in the lawsuit and can join it.
What's next: A “realistic” trial date will be set by U.S. Judge Magistrate J. Gregory Wehrman.
  Here is how Title IX has most recently affected the Tristate:
  • April: Softball season opens and change is afoot. Mrs. Egan is one of the parents who threatened a Title IX lawsuit because fast-pitch games had been limited to 90 minutes for fast pitch and 75 minutes for slow pitch. The Kentucky High School Athletic Association begins enforcing seven-inning games.
  • March: U.S. District Judge Sandra S. Beckwith of Cincinnati dismisses the Title IX lawsuit that male students filed against Miami University for eliminating men's soccer, tennis and wrestling to meet Title IX goals. The students alleged Miami made the cuts to satisfy “gender quotas.”
  • January: Members of the Kentucky High School Athletic Association visit Beechwood High School in Fort Mitchell to discuss gender equity in sports with school officials, parents and the public.
  The meeting is part of the athletic association's five-year plan to help schools and communities comply with Title IX.
  • Fall 1999: Northern Kentucky University adds women's golf to its athletic program. It is an effort to comply with Title IX.
  • May 1998: University of Cincinnati eliminates co-ed rifle, men's tennis and men's indoor track to comply with Title IX.

        The class was established as “all present and future female students enrolled at Boone County Schools who participate, seek to participate, or are deterred from participating in interscholastic and other school-sponsored athletics at Boone County Schools.”

        A ruling in favor of the class represented in the lawsuit could force Boone County schools to reassess the way athletic funds and programs are handled. A ruling could also stand as a precedent for other high school cases.

        “We're very pleased,” said Kimberly Egan, one of the parents, who said she is trying to bring an even playing field to Boone County athletics. Her daughter, Chrissi, was a softball pitcher last season.

        In their lawsuit, the parents contend there are inequalities in funding, team travel, equipment and supplies, quality of coaching, scheduling of games and practice times, provision of locker rooms, medical and training services and publicity.

        The parents are seeking a trial, attorneys' fees, and for Judge Bertelsman to declare that Boone County schools have engaged in discrimination on the basis of gender. They want him to issue a permanent injunction restraining the district from future discrimination.

        “This was a big step,” Mrs. Egan said of the class-action certification. “We've always said this is not just about our daughters and this is not just about softball. This was the judge validating that. We're definitely hoping ... a ripple effect” will benefit other Tristate schools.

        Title IX is the federal law prohibiting gender discrimination in education programs and activities, including athletics, at any school receiving federal money. The Office for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education enforces the 28-year-old legislation.

        Hundreds of Title IX lawsuits have been filed across the nation, said Kimberly Schuld , director of the Arlington, Va.-based Play Fair Project, which has been studying Title IX since 1997.

        Most Title IX lawsuits filed in the late 1980s and early '90s involved alleged discrimination at the college level. For the past five years, half the suits have focused on precollegiate athletics, she said.

        These cases “are not about participation but resources,” she said. “Judges are generally ruling in favor of girls at the consequence of the boys. (But) when it comes to resources, you can always find inequities. (The crux of the dilemma) is are we defining equality as exactly equal in all respects.”

        The parents suing Boone County schools have four daughters who play softball, basketball and volleyball. Heather Lawrence, the Lady Rebels softball pitcher who was nearly unhittable last season, is one of them.

        At Monday's hearing, Judge Bertelsman promised to visit Boone County facilities. He wants to gauge whether inequities truly exist.

        Superintendent Bryan Blavatt said the school campuses have nothing to hide. He says Boone County's strong athletics program and record of nurturing female athletes who eventually play college sports speak for themselves.

        “Most of this is in the hands of the attorney,” he said. “The quality of the girls' programs and female athletics is a source of great pride for us. I just regret that this will take up so much time and energy and resources from all the citizens of Boone County when, in fact, I honestly believe we have made every effort to work with these folks.

        “It's very important to me (that) we continue to make a good-faith effort for every kid (and) for every young person we deal with.”

        Mrs. Egan said she and the other parents are not seeking damages because no price can be placed on their daughters' self-respect and self-esteem.


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