Kentucky School district sued over field house and Title IX

By Brett Barrouquere

Associated Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- When Dick Richards joined other parents in a tour of a new, $1 million field house for athletes at his daughter's high school, he couldn't believe the setup. Gleaming locker rooms, showers and restrooms, all befitting a public school with a reputation for athletic excellence.

Except there weren't any facilities in the new building for the female athletes.

"There's no way you can take a look at that and say it's equal," said Richards, whose daughter is a 15-year-old sophomore cross-country runner at North Oldham High School in Goshen, a suburb 15 miles northeast of Louisville.

Equality for high school athletes is at the center of a suit Richards filed against the Oldham County Board of Education and the idea behind a push for federal legislation that would make funding for high school sports more transparent.

The High School Athletic Accountability Act would require school districts to make available online funding information for male and female sports, with breakdowns of numbers of athletes participating in various sports, the number of coaches for each sport and percentage of money being spent on male and female athletics. Such data is already available for colleges and universities.

The idea behind the bill is to make funding more transparent and head off litigation and confrontations, said Nancy Hogshead-Makar, senior director of advocacy at the nonprofit educational organization Women's Sports Foundation in East Meadow, N.Y.

"We know a lot about participation, we don't really know a lot about issues like this, treatment issues, until somebody calls us with a complaint," Hogshead-Makar said.

The measure has been introduced each of the last four Congressional sessions, but failed to get out of committee each time. The proposal is designed to strengthen -- at the high school level -- Title IX, the landmark legislation passed in 1972 mandating equal opportunities in education for men and women.

The law has had the greatest impact in amateur sports, pushing high schools and colleges to level the playing field among genders for sports such as soccer and basketball.

U.S. Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., a sponsor of the proposal filed again Jan. 26, said in a statement that girls received 1.3 million fewer opportunities to play sports than high school boys.

"It's high time we corrected this inequity," Slaughter said.

Hogshead-Makar said it is harder to track instances like the conflict in Oldham County unless there is litigation because in so many places, there's no easy access to the funding data. Making the information easily available, like the proposed legislation calls for, should help prevent funding disparities or unequal treatment by allowing the public to see what is being spent and how, she said.

If the funding and plans for the North Oldham field house completed in October 2008 had been transparent, parents could have objected before the completion of the facility, possibly averting litigation, Hogshead-Makar said.

"Think of the athletics department in one classroom," Hogshead-Makar said of the proposed legislation. "Now, everybody can see what everybody else has."

The National Women's Law Center in Washington, D.C., included Oldham County among a dozen complaints filed in November with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights. Neena Chaudhry, senior counsel for education and employment at the center, said the civil rights office opened an investigation into all 12 school districts and that the probes were still pending in February.

In the case of North Oldham High School, the public knew the facility was being built and the cost. What the Richards family didn't know, until the building was complete and open to public tours, is that it would be a male-only field house, said E. Douglas Richards, the attorney handling the suit against the school district.

Douglas Richards said he was surprised to see bathrooms and showers set up for boys only. Other than granting the girls access to part of the visitor's locker room, the effect has been to push the girls into lesser facilities, the attorney said.

"As a practical matter, they've gone on to use the faculty bathroom or the coaches closet (to change)," Douglas Richards said.

In court filings the school board denied the allegations in the lawsuit, filed in December in federal court in Louisville, but provide no details.

Anne Coorssen, general counsel to the Oldham County Board of Education, denied the allegations in the lawsuit. Coorssen said the board is proud of the opportunities offered by North Oldham High to male and female athletes, including the field house "that is used by both boys' and girls' athletic teams."

"However, Title IX does not speak to individual teams or sports, but rather to the school's overall athletic programs," Coorssen said. "We believe that an examination of the North Oldham High School's athletic program will demonstrate that the school and the district has fully complied with the requirements of Title IX."

Dick Richards said making changes to the field house to accommodate female athletes could be done easily, primarily by retrofitting some of the rest rooms.

"It wouldn't take much," Richards said. "The whole notion of treating girls like second-class citizens just doesn't seem right."

Published: Tue, Feb 22, 2011