The four high schools in the Irvine Unified School District were informed Wednesday that the National Women's Law Center had filed a complaint against them and 11 other school districts in the U.S. for allegedly failing to comply with Title IX requirements to offer equal sports opportunities for women.
Cassie Parham, an assistant superintendent for the Irvine schools and once a three-sport athlete at Irvine High School, was surprised her district was on the list.
"We pride ourselves in terms of offering multiple opportunities," she said. "I know I always felt like I had the chance to do everything sports-wise I wanted. Kids at our schools are very involved in many things. I just don't see any basis for this complaint."
Using data from 2004 through 2006, which the NWLC said were the best available, the Irvine high schools — Woodbridge, University, Northwood and Irvine — showed a growing gap of more than 10% between the number of girls enrolled versus the number who play sports. In Chicago, also cited, that gap is 33%.
Yet Ian Hanigan, public information officer for the Irvine district, said the data fail to show opportunities offered. "The analysis is somewhat flawed in that it looks only at participation rates," he said, pointing out that since 2006, Irvine schools added women's lacrosse and offers eight sports each for boys and girls plus five coed sports, including swimming and track and field.
The NWLC, based in Washington, suggested Irvine's schools add one of four sports — field hockey, badminton, gymnastics and skiing. Of the 582 schools in the CIF Southern Section, none offer women's skiing, five offer gymnastics, 12 offer field hockey and 39 badminton.
If the gap is growing, there is a reason, said Eric Pearson, chairman of the College Sports Council, which is advocating changes in Title IX, which became law in 1972.
""It's not like the college level where you have recruiting," he said. "It's far more difficult to achieve proportionality at [the high school] level."
Nancy Hogshead-Makar, director of advocacy for the Women's Sports Foundation and a former Olympic swimmer, said complying with Title IX isn't complicated. "Our experience, and all our research, shows that if you have teams, girls will participate and in equal numbers. You have to offer the opportunities."