Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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Gender-equity lesson

Ottawa Hills schools need to expand sports opportunities for female students. Two girls’ club teams — soccer and lacrosse — are both popular and eager to become varsity sports. But money is in short supply, which has exhausted the supply of patience, reason, and courtesy in the affluent village.

By any measure, Ottawa Hills has fallen out of compliance with Title IX, the 1972 federal law that prohibits sex bias in school programs that get federal support. The high school offers nine varsity sports for boys and seven for girls.

Girls make up nearly half the student body, but they account for less than 40 percent of the school’s athletes. The district hasn’t added a varsity sport for girls in decades.

Ottawa Hills school officials named a committee to look at how well the district complies with Title IX and to recommend changes. The year-long review concluded that the school is not in compliance, has not addressed the growing popularity of lacrosse and soccer among female students, and should add at least one sport to its varsity roster.

The question for budget-conscious school administrators boiled down to: Do we add two varsity sports, or would one be enough to satisfy the requirements of Title IX? The question many people want them to answer is: Why are we having this discussion 40 years after Title IX became the law of the land?

The board’s seeming preference to slide by with just one new varsity sport set up an unnecessary competition between advocates of lacrosse and soccer, and bitterness between parents and administrators. It attracted the attention of the Women’s Sports Foundation and USA Today sports columnist Christine Brennan, an Ottawa Hills High graduate.

The problem, school board members say, is how to pay for uniforms, equipment, and travel. But the law doesn’t allow financial-hardship exceptions. And the financial argument is difficult to credit in the wealthy district.

Lacrosse and soccer each have strong parental involvement and financial support. Each is popular among female students. Foot-dragging suggests a lack of commitment to gender equality. That’s not the lesson that Ottawa Hills schools ought to be teaching.

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