Title IX: Means More than Sports For My Daughter and All of Our Children

Today, we celebrate the 40th anniversary of Title IX, a civil rights law that despite, or maybe because of, its brevity (the law’s main provision is only 36 words long) has become an indispensable tool for fighting gender discrimination in education. Most famously, Title IX has done much to level the playing field in athletics. Since it was enacted, girls’ participation in sports has risen a staggering 90 percent. But that’s not ALL Title IX is about. So while we celebrate girls’ and women’s increasing success on the field, it’s worth noting the other ways in which Title IX creates more fair and equal schools.

First, Title IX prohibits schools from excluding or discriminating against students based on sex. Unfortunately, we’ve been combating a worrying trend in classrooms across America: single-sex education. These programs separate boys and girls into different classrooms, and often employ different teaching strategies for each group, as part of a misguided attempt to fix failing schools.

The theories on which many of these programs are based advocate some of the following pedagogic methods, rooted in outdated stereotypes:

1)     Girls cannot handle stress as well as boys, so they should not have timed tests   

2)     Boys should be physically active in the classroom, and reserved boys should be encouraged to engage in physical activities like “normal” boys

3)     Girls should be able to take their shoes off in class

4)     Boys should be looked directly in the eye and spoken to in an authoritative manner

5)     Girls should be spoken to softly and never looked in the eye.

Fortunately, Title IX prohibits schools from creating teaching methods based on sex stereotypes. And, as a study published in Sciencedemonstrates, these programs don’t improve academic achievement (which is what proponents of single-sex education say they are supposed to do). Instead, they subject children to stereotypes about the way boys and girls are supposed to behave.

We at the ACLU will continue to work hard to make sure that Title IX is being properly applied in classrooms. We’ve already had some success. In 2006, we won a lawsuit in Louisiana, which resulted in Vermilion Parish ending its single-sex program. Many school districts in the nation have responded to our letters pointing out Title IX violations by shutting down their single-sex education programs in states such as Maine, Pennsylvania, and Alabama. To spread the message further, we’ve launched a nationwide campaign called Teach Kids, Not Stereotypes, to combat the harmful gender stereotypes at the root of the new wave of single-sex programs.

Title IX protects students in other critical ways. Preventing gender based violence and harassment – including sexual harassment, rape, sexual assault, and bullying or harassment based on stereotypes about how boys and girls ought to look or behave – benefits all students. Title IX also provides protection for pregnant and parenting students to make sure they can continue their education.

Many schools fail to uphold Title IX’s promise in these areas. One of our clients, Shantelle Hicks, had her rights violated when a school administrator decided to announce her pregnancy to the entire school in assembly.

Fortunately we also see progress in enforcement of Title IX. Last year we told you the story of our client in Texas who was charged with misconduct after being raped and sent to the same alternative school as her rapist. This week, the Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) of the U.S. Department of Education issued a decision finding that the school violated Title IX, concluding that the school had discriminated against our client by failing to independently investigate the assault she reported. OCR determined that the school had retaliated by disciplining our client after she reported the assault. The school district will now be obligated to carry out 13 action items designed to ensure that no student goes through what our client did. 

Because of Title IX, my daughter is growing up in a world where placing boys and girls on unequal academic footing is against the law. She plays soccer, goes to a co-ed public elementary school, and will attend a middle- and high school where I am hopeful that pregnant girls will have equal opportunities to attain a good education, and where she can thrive in an environment that is safe from sexual harassment and assault.   On Monday, I will return to work and continue fighting to ensure that Title IX is not violated by school districts around the country; but today I will celebrate all that Title IX has accomplished over the last 40 years. Happy Birthday Title IX!

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