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Yelling Boys Say School Bias Ruling Skirts Issue

February 05, 1989|SAM ENRIQUEZ | Times Staff Writer

It was after months of fretful study and consultation with attorneys that the Los Angeles school district arrived at its ruling: Boys will be boys.

District officials early in the school year issued a rule prohibiting high school boys from dressing up as female cheerleaders at "powder puff" football games--in which the girls battle it out on the field while the boys lead the cheers.

In the months since the district's ruling, what has become clear is that students are not interested in taking part in a watered-down version of tradition. The once-popular games have all but died out.

"We decided it's no fun if the guys can't dress up as girls," said El Camino Real High School senior class President Paul Geller, whose classmates recently called off the game they normally stage about

this time each year.

Geller said his class organized an ice skating party last week instead. "But you can't really compare the two things," he said. "Everyone was really upset that we couldn't have the game."

District officials said that boys dressing up as female cheerleaders violates Title IX, a federal regulation that bans schools from discriminating on the basis of sex.

The ruling allows the games but prohibits boys from dressing as girls and especially from "using props under their clothing which represent female anatomical features," the school district's memo on the matter said.

School officials said the new policy was prompted by a complaint about a powder puff game held during the 1987-88 school year.

"We received a complaint that at one school in particular, the boys were imitating women, using balloons to make their breasts extremely large and behaving in a manner that some would call humorous but others could view as offensive and even obscene," said Connie LaFace-Olson, director of the school district's Commission for Sex Equity.

School administrators had been uneasy about the games, which in recent years have become increasingly raucous, LaFace-Olson said. The last straw, she said, was the complaint that boys were squeezing each others' balloons.

The incident sparked several months of study and deliberation by the district's Title IX office and the 29-member commission, which advises on sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination, LaFace-Olson said.

Title IX, passed by Congress in 1972, has been used to force the expansion of women's athletic programs. The law's name is its section of the Education Amendments of 1972 that were passed to prohibit discrimination in schools receiving federal money.

But in the case of powder puff football, district officials say the law also prohibits school-sponsored events that cause humiliation on the basis of sex.

"If girls going to school are subjected to this activity and they are ridiculed and made to feel like second-class citizens, then I think that constitutes discrimination," said Ada Trieger, an attorney for the school district.

Some students say the new rule is just another example of adults' misunderstanding and interfering with high school social life.

"I think it's ridiculous," said Canoga Park High School senior class President Allen Porter, whose school decided to cancel the game rather than comply with the regulations. "It's been blown totally out of proportion."

One of the few remaining holdouts in the district is Lincoln High School, where student adviser Ben Wadsworth said the annual powder puff game will take place this month despite the new policy. He said his students have grumbled about it but have taken no action.

"Guys can participate as yell leaders and still do all the yelling and stunting and goofing around and even borrow sweater tops from girl yell leaders," Wadsworth said. "But they'll be wearing slacks instead of skirts and no makeup."

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