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L.A. schools reflect Title IX challenges

June 23, 2007|Eric Sondheimer | Times Staff Writer

Title IX is exactly 35 years old today and a prime example of its impact -- and accompanying challenges -- can be seen within the building boom of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The law was enacted to thwart sex discrimination, and balancing gender equity has indeed become part of the blueprint as the nation's second-largest district prepares to open 37 new high schools by 2012.

For example, each gymnasium is being designed with equal access in mind, and with matching locker rooms. That's a dramatic change from the early 1970s, when the last of LAUSD's original 49 comprehensive campuses was completed -- none taking girls' sports into consideration during construction.

Considering that participation in sports by high school girls is roughly 10 times what it was in 1971-72, the year before Title IX became law -- 294,015 according to the National Federation of State High School Associations, compared to 2,953,355 in 2005-06 -- that's no longer an option.

"It's part of what we do now," said Sue Spears, the district's director of the Educational Equity Compliance.

And it's not easy. There are plenty of limitations on money and space, meaning compromise has become key throughout the process.

Arleta, a first-year high school, has a softball diamond but no room for a baseball field. Even so, its baseball team advanced to the City Section small schools final played earlier this month at Dodger Stadium, practicing and playing its home games at a local park.

The Miguel Contreras Learning Center that opened on Third Street in downtown Los Angeles last year was able to build baseball and softball diamonds on one parcel -- but center field overlaps, meaning the fields can't be used to their full capability at the same time.

"We know sports is important to boys and girls," Contreras Athletic Director Rose Low said, "and we have to make it work."

The issue is no less prevalent at the dozens of campuses that were designed before Title IX became law.

Granada Hills Kennedy High, which opened in 1971, didn't have an on-campus softball field until 2004. Crenshaw, Hollywood and Narbonne highs were others that had to upgrade softball facilities to make them comparable to existing baseball venues after Title IX complaints.

At Chatsworth, a seven-time City baseball champion, a $20,000 softball field opened this year after complaints that the baseball field, with its pristine grass infield, electronic scoreboard and stadium seating, far exceeded amenities at the softball facility.

"We believe that the girls deserved a great field like the boys," Chatsworth Principal Jeff Davis said.

District officials say gender equity issues are taken seriously at LAUSD, where the Educational Equity Compliance Office investigates Title IX complaints.

Boys' and girls' teams must share gyms, tennis courts, soccer fields and swimming pools.

"You've got the big gym and the small gym. It's not boys' or girls' anymore," Contreras assistant principal Rosie Martinez said.

Barbara Fiege, commissioner of the City Section, which oversees sports competition within the LAUSD, recalls girls' sports being in their infancy when she started out as a coach at Dorsey High in 1975.

Back then, she said, "there were battles on high school campuses for sharing facilities and money for uniforms."

Now, by law, educational institutions that receive federal aid must comply with one of three basic requirements: by providing athletic opportunities in proportion to the student body as a whole; by demonstrating continued expansion of the underrepresented gender; by meeting the athletic interests of the underrepresented gender.

In recent years, the district has "made great strides in the number of participants, the number of sports and scheduling," Fiege said. But, she added: "There are still concerns with facilities. We're not done yet. We've got a ways to go. But people are willing to speak up, and fathers, in particular, are speaking up for their daughters if there's any inequity."

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Times staff writer Ken Fowler contributed to this report.

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

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