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Education Reporter

At Last, Common Sense on Title IX
New Rules Permit E-mail Surveys of Interest in Sports
New federal guidelines to measure compliance with Title IX let colleges use an internet survey to determine whether women's interests in competitive sports are being accommodated.

Title IX, the federal law against sex discrimination in education at schools receiving federal funds, has long been interpreted to effectively impose gender quotas on college sports. Colleges have been forced to eliminate hundreds of men's sports teams, such as wrestling, in order to keep the numbers of men and women participating in athletics proportional to their enrollment numbers. Critics have charged that such an interpretation wrongly assumes that college women want to engage in sports in the same proportion as men.

In March, the U.S. Department of Education issued new guidelines stating that an e-mail survey of students may demonstrate that the interests and abilities of women have been accommodated by the present program.

Two years ago, a presidential commission reviewing Title IX considered proposals to allow schools wider use of surveys to prove compliance. Then-Education Secretary Rod Paige rejected those proposals.

But no sanity on coed wrestling 
The practice by some wrestling teams of forfeiting a match rather than have a boy wrestle a girl is under attack in Washington State, where a father has filed a Title IX complaint against the Vashon Island school district.

Although not required by Title IX, for nearly 20 years Washington public middle and high schools have had to let girls join their wrestling teams and compete at tournaments. However, private schools are not bound by the same laws, and some Christian schools choose to forfeit boy-girl wrestling matches as a matter of policy. Wrestling rules traditionally allow a forfeit for any reason, and even public schools have let male wrestlers forfeit coed matches.

The father of a 7th-grade girl wrestler argues that by allowing private schools with such forfeit policies to compete against public schools in league tournaments, the public schools are violating Title IX, which does not apply directly to private schools receiving no federal funds.

A related issue is whether the sports league is a "public actor," which can't allow discrimination between girls and boys. (Seattle Times, 5-7-05) In the Michigan case described below, a similar league was held to be a public actor.

Michigan sports scheduling 
A Michigan sports league's long-running court battle over the scheduling of high school girls' sports entered a new phase in May when the U.S. Supreme Court told a federal appeals court to revisit the case in light of a recent decision by the high court in another case.

The Michigan case was brought by mothers of female athletes who challenged Michigan's practice of scheduling girls' basketball in the fall and volleyball in the winter, the opposite of when colleges play those sports. Boys' teams are scheduled to match the college schedules.

The lower federal courts found a violation of the Constitution's Equal Protection Clause. The effect of the Supreme Court's latest action is potentially to limit the plaintiffs' remedies to Title IX, which is more specific and narrower in scope than the Equal Protection Clause.

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