Albany County School District No. 1’s school board is establishing a committee to study if — and how — it can make its sports offerings more equitable for boys and girls.
Since her election to the school board in 2016, former Laramie High School teacher Tammy Schroeder has expressed concern about the way Wyoming accommodates the athletic needs of girls.
She has repeatedly questioned whether the state is in compliance with Title IX, a section of the Education Amendments of 1972 which simply stated “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.”
Since the law’s enactment, the Office of Civil Rights has required schools to provide equitable athletic opportunities for both sexes.
The OCR uses a “three-pronged test” to weigh whether schools are compliant with the law.
To pass the test, a school must show one of three things:
— The ratio of male to female students is roughly proportional to the school’s enrollment.
— The school has a continuing practice of expanding athletic opportunities for female students.
— If the opportunities are not substantially proportionate, the school is nonetheless meeting the female athletes’ interests.
The most basic way for a school to pass the test is to meet the proportionality benchmark.
How Laramie measures up
During the 2017-2018 school year, the number of boys attending LHS was about 1.5 percent higher than girls.
Despite that, there were 12 percent more male athletes than girls.
In the 2016-2017 school year, LHS male athletes outnumbered the girls by 22 percent. That year, male enrollment was 6 percent higher than female students.
The last three years worth of data found a 2.4 percent discrepancy between the percentage of female attending LHS and those participating in sports.
“Our legal counsel contends that there is a sound argument that the LHS athletic program satisfies the substantial proportionality test is in compliance with Title IX, thereby negating the need for further inquiry into the other two prongs,” superintendent Jubal Yennie said in a Sept. 7 letter to the school board.
In 1999, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals found that a school whose ratio of male-to-female athletes was within 3 percent of the enrollment ratio was in compliance with the first prong of the OCR test.
However, the 2nd Circuit ruled in 2012 that Quinnipiac University was not in compliance with Title IX for having a 3.62 percent disparity between athletic participation and enrollment ratios.
This fall, LHS currently has 27 more female athletes than male athletes. However, that differential is largely accounted for by girls having one more sport held in the fall than boys have.
At the school board’s annual day-long retreat held Friday, Yennie said the number of girls playing sports at Laramie Middle School significantly exceeds the boys.
“If those kids get to the high school and the number flips, we need to ask why,” Yennie said.
“We need to make sure we don’t swing the other way and not offer opportunities for boys,” Schroeder said.
Girls sports ‘second class’
While Laramie might meet the OCR’s proportionality test, school board members expressed the need for the district to go further.
“I think we need to be very careful that we don’t just boil it down to numbers,” board member Dona Coffey said. “Do we choose to go by what’s easiest, or do we choose to go by what’s best for our kids?”
Schroeder said both the district and Wyoming at large have a history of gender inequity that’s not revealed by proportionality alone.
When the new Laramie High School was completed in 2016, it came with a “varsity” locker room that had amenities far surpassing the district’s other locker rooms.
In the 2016-2017 school year, the varsity locker room became a de facto football locker room. The team kept its equipment in facility throughout the year and became somewhat inhabited by the wrestling team during the winter.
“When it was designed, it probably wasn’t designed with (gender) parity in mind,” Yennie said.
Schroeder said it’s conditions like that which treat girls sports as “second class” in the state.
“The locker room for the football team is just the tip of the iceberg,” she said.
When Schroeder was an assistant coach for the girls’ basketball team, she said the girls were practiced in the small auxiliary gym while the boys practiced in the main gym. When the boys’ locker room received new showers, the girls’ didn’t.
“It’s a struggle every year,” she said.
After Schroeder complained to Yennie in 2017, the varsity locker room later became home to the girl’s basketball team — as well as the football team — during the 2017-2018 school year.
Title IX requires male and female athletes to receive equal benefits and services in their athletic programs. Schroeder said it’s more important than ever to adhere to that.
“The courts have become more and more involved in the minutia and what it means to give students opportunities,” she said.
Regardless of liability, Schroeder said the district has an ethical obligation to ensure equity.
“We’ve got to do the right thing for our girls,” she said.
Number of sports
While the OCR has never required schools to offer a proportionate number of sports, an unintended consequence of the law meant some schools cut certain boys’ sports in Title IX’s first few decades to lower the number of male athletes.
Board member Ken Cramer said it’s unfortunate that any effort for the district to improve gender equity will face backlash.
“Who got blamed for men sports being dropped? Women. Those are the sort of attitudinal things we need to fight against,” he said.
The Wyoming High School Activities Association sanctioned an equal number of sports for boys and girls until 2010, when support for gymnastics was cut amid dwindling participation statewide.
In order for WHSAA to sanction another girl’s sport, at least eight schools would need to participate.
At the behest of WHSAA, ACSD No. 1 and other school districts sent out a survey in early 2017 to ensure the state was providing the sports offerings that girls want.
However, school board members said the survey’s quality was poor. Yennie said the response rate was “deplorable.”
Now the ACSD No. 1 plans to put out its own survey. Yennie said he wants it to be more comprehensive than just being used for “more purposes than just learning if we offer enough sports,” he said.
“What I’m really concerned about is do we meet the interest of all the kids,” he said.