Title IX spotlights scholastic sports — for all students or just the Al Bundy types?

When the term "Title IX" is mentioned, the fundamental question is this:

Should taxpayers give millions of dollars to each school system to benefit students generally, or should they be forced to prop up lavish spectator sports programs?

That question came to mind as we read a Fourth of July column in The Morning Call, written by Terry Fromson, a lawyer for the Women's Law Project, based in Philadelphia.

She began by saying how the Northwestern Lehigh School Board decided last month to support a proposal to "keep basic information from parents and students about the sports programs their tax dollars support."

That, Fromson said, "revealed shocking ignorance about Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education." She said the school board "incredulously" felt the federal law did not apply to local school districts.

I have personal feelings about sex discrimination in schools, especially as it affects scholastic sports, and I'll get to that. But first let's consider what the federal law, in effect since 1972, says unequivocally.

"No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance," it proclaims.

The U.S. Department of Education says that virtually every one of approximately 16,000 school districts in America gets federal funds. If you are a school official and your school gets so much as a dime of federal money, you are required to provide equal opportunities in athletic activities for males and females. If you violate that provision, you are a crook.

Similarly, you are a crook if you violate a state law that says school officials must report to the local public whether, and how, they are complying with the federal law.

"The [state] law is not burdensome," Fromson wrote. (I'd have to disagree on that point. It is indeed burdensome to any official who wants to keep students, their parents and the rest of the public in the dark about how their tax money is being spent.)

Fromson noted that Northwestern also is moving to spend $2.1 million of improvements to its football stadium and other athletic facilities, and that brings up my two favorite examples of public school priorities — in Allentown and Northampton.

In Allentown, school officials had 18 football coaches on the payroll at the same time they denied funds for library books. Northampton's officials financed $2.7 million in luxurious improvements for a school football stadium at the same time they denied increased funding for their library. This was when Allentown and Northampton were in what I called the state's "scholastic toilet" based on academic tests.

As graduates of those and similar systems proceed through life, I'm sure they will feel they benefit far more from touchdowns and pom-pom waving than from any ability to read and write or add 2 plus 2.

A photograph accompanying Fromson's column was of a victorious Parkland High School girls volleyball team, but let's face it, football is far more popular from a spectator standpoint than girls volleyball.

As for my personal feelings, when I was young, I loved being on the football team more than anything else at school, even though that was the worst team in Eden, N.Y., High School history and I was one of its lesser lights, at that. (My best friend Jim, who was the quarterback, sarcastically called me "Mr. Coordination" in those days.) Some of my progeny did better.

Our daughter Cindy got "outstanding athlete of the year" trophies at two different schools in two different years. Our granddaughter Megan had similar honors in high school and was able to go to Lafayette College partly on the strength of her soccer skills. She is now at the University of Delaware, working on a doctorate in micro-biology and concurrently on a master's of business administration.

I also should point out that Title IX resulted from a battle over sex discrimination at the University of Maryland in the 1960s, when I was a political science student at that institution's overseas campus for military people. At that time, however, I do not remember having a single thought about sex discrimination issues involving scholastic sports.

The focus of Title IX soon shifted to athletics, and since then it has been bitterly opposed, especially with claims that "quotas" set by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights negatively affected male student athletes.

If schools had to provide meaningful programs for girls, after all, it diminished the glory for jocks. Does that justify a school district putting all its financial eggs in the football stadium basket while giving certain other sports lip service?

It does not. I love sports, but tax money should be aimed at benefiting all students, not only the Al Bundy types who have nothing going for them later in life other than "four touchdowns in a single game."

It certainly should not be designed to cater to popularity contests, such as drawing big crowds who want to be entertained by boys football or boys basketball games, each featuring a couple of dozen students, tops, at the expense of thousands of others.

paul.carpenter@mcall.com 610-820-6176

Paul Carpenter's commentary appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays

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