By Johnny Jackson
Henry County Schools officials are looking into a complaint, alleging the school district, and 11 others across the country, are failing to provide high school girls with equal opportunities to play sports.
The Washington, D.C.-based National Women's Law Center (NWLC) alleges that the school systems are violating the federal Title IX law, which prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded education programs. The complaints were publicized Wednesday.
"I believe, as a board member, that we do adhere to Title IX and that we are equal in what we offer," said Henry County Board of Education Chairman Ray Hudalla.
The center filed complaints with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in varied school districts, one in each of the 12 OCR regions. The complaints call for the OCR to investigate and remedy the perceived gender inequities in high school sports.
NWLC officials noted, in a prepared statement, that the complaints were "based on the schools' own data [which revealed] pervasive and growing inequities in the number of opportunities for girls to play sports in high school."
School officials in Henry said they learned about the complaint Wednesday, and had not had the opportunity to review the specifics in the complaint, which contained 21 bulletpoints of allegations.
"We are very well aware of the requirements and responsibilities under Title IX and work to ensure full compliance," said Tony Pickett, Henry's executive assistant to the Office of the Superintendent. "To my knowledge, there have been no changes in the athletic opportunities available to female students in Henry County Schools. [But] we will fully investigate and respond to this matter."
NWLC alleged that the average of the participation gaps (the difference between the percentage of girls enrolled and the percentage of athletes who are girls) of the high schools in Henry was 12.5 percent. The center also declared that six high schools in the ever-growing school district reported gaps greater than 10 percent.
The district-wide gap, according to NWLC officials, translates to 430 fewer opportunities for girls to play sports than boys.
"Nationwide, only 41 percent of all high school athletes are girls, even though they make up half the student population," noted NWLC Co-President Marcia Greenberger in a statement released Wednesday. "That means schools are giving girls 1.3 million fewer opportunities than boys to play sports nationwide.
"It's past time to rally for girls in high school sports," Greenberger continued. "The National Women's Law Center urges the Henry County Schools and every school district to examine their sports programs and to take all necessary steps to treat their female students fairly."
Statewide, the participation rate was lower for high school girls in sports than for their male counterparts, according to survey data from the Georgia High School Association (GHSA).
GHSA's 2009-10 Athletics Participation Survey indicates that 110,491 (49.2 percent) of the 224,428 boys enrolled in GHSA-member high schools were reported as participants in state-sanctioned interscholastic sports last school year. Some 66,953 (29.9 percent) of the 223,578 girls, were reported as participants in sports, based on data, provided by GHSA Media Relations Director Steve Figueroa.
School district data from Henry was unavailable Wednesday, though Henry officials did say they would respond to the complaints.
"We're investigating it," added Chairman Hudalla.
Hudalla acknowledged that the school board's involvement in extracurricular, or interscholastic sports, is limited to providing supplemental pay to some team coaches.
"The rest is made up by booster clubs who do fund-raising, or by individuals who participate in the sport and their parents," he said. "Some sports charge a gate fee to generate funds."
The school board chairman added that funding for most programs, directly funded by education dollars or not, has been slashed and scrutinized in recent years due to losses in state and local tax revenues.
Hudalla said the school district's former athletic director left Henry to pursue other career opportunities in 2009.
"Due to budget cuts, we did not fill that position immediately," he said. "And since then, as a result of last year's round of budget cuts, someone else in the county office has assumed those responsibilities."