Six northern Utah school districts have been named in a complaint filed with the federal Office of Civil Rights that alleges sex discrimination against female high school athletes.
Roy resident and Davis School District psychologist Joe Langeveld filed the complaint early last month with the agency's regional office in Denver. The office has notified the Cache, Logan, Box Elder, Ogden, Weber and Davis districts that a class-action complaint has been filed against them on behalf of female students in those districts.The complaint alleges the districts are violating Title 9 of the 1972 Education Amendments by not sponsoring varsity soccer teams for girls when they sponsor varsity soccer teams for boys. Title 9 prohibits schools that receive federal money from discriminating on the basis of sex.
If evidence warrants a formal investigation, the Office of Civil Rights will investigate the districts' entire athletics programs, rather than just the soccer issue. If the districts are found to be out of compliance with Title 9, they ultimately face losing all of their federal funding.
Gilbert Roman, director of the regional Office of Civil Rights, said "letters of interrogatory" will be sent to the districts asking about the sports they offer and their policies and procedures. After the districts respond, the office will schedule on-site reviews if necessary.
"In the meantime, nothing precludes us from trying to negotiate the issue before going to a formal investigation," Roman said.
Some superintendents and Richard Gomez, state Office of Education equity officer, are trying to negotiate. Weber Superintendent Jay Taggart has requested technical assistance from the office, where superintendents can explore legal options and ramifications of the issue.
"This encourages the least conflict. We can get assistance from the Office of Civil Rights without turning it into a legal battle," Gomez said. "Such a conference is not an admission of guilt. It is a compromise."
Roman said Title 9 emphasizes the need to make opportunities equal for boys and girls to bring school athletic programs into compliance with the law, so that those opportunities allow for the interests and abilities of each sex.
Langeveld said those districts were singled out because he couldn't file a complaint against the Utah High School Activities Association, which sanctions school sports. The activities association is not a direct recipient of federal funds.
Since the complaint has been filed, the high school activities association has agreed to put the issue of soccer on its January meeting agenda, said director Glen Beere. The issue of sanctioning softball for girls also will be discussed, he said.
Langeveld said he filed the complaint because it appeared to him that the districts have never tried to provide for the interests and abilities of girls.
"This is on a positive basis. I'm not trying to create problems," Langeveld said. "But if we have a law, it's our obligation to honor and sustain it. Sometimes people won't enforce laws until someone challenges them."