On October 19, 2023, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights announced a resolution agreement in its Title IX Athletics Investigation of Morgan Hill Unified School District in California.
OCR investigated a complaint alleging discrimination on the basis of sex in various components of its athletics program, including: equipment and supplies, scheduling, travel and per diem, coaching, facilities, medical and training facilities and services, and publicity. The investigation also addressed whether the District had adopted and published its grievance procedures appropriately under Title IX.
OCR documented compliance concerns that female and male student athletes did have equivalent access to facilities, or equal opportunities regarding equipment, scheduling, travel, coaching, and publicity.
For example, the school’s baseball team had two exclusive fields while the softball team had only one field. The varsity baseball field had lights, a scoreboard, and a PA system; the softball field did not have any of those features. With respect to athletic training, at one school, an athletic trainer was supposed to be available to all teams on an as needed basis, however the trainer only kept an on-campus schedule during football season. Non-footballl coaches did not receive the trainer’s on-campus schedule. OCR also identified that at one school, male and female student athletes were not receiving equal opportunities to receive coaching. Notably, during the 2021-2022 school year, girl’s programs had a 12:1 athlete to coach ratio while the boys’ program had 7:1 athlete to coach ratio.
In addressing disparities in equipment and supplies, OCR describes in its letter how the teams with successful fundraising programs have high-quality and custom-designed uniforms and equipment. OCR states plainly that “OCR does not view some school athletic programs having access to better equipment as a result of successful fundraising to be a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason that excused the District from providing equivalent equipment and supplies to girls’ and boys’ athletic programs.”
Regarding publicity, OCR reviewed the athletic program’s social media posts for a particular school year and found there were double the number of posts about boys’ athletic programs than girls’ athletic programs.
OCR also investigated whether the District failed to adopt and publish grievance procedures providing for the prompt and equitable resolution of complaints of sex discrimination. OCR dismissed this allegation as the District fixed a previously malfunctioning Title IX webpage and ensured the webpage included instructions on how to file a formal complaint, and a statement that the District does not discriminate on the basis of sex.
As a result of the review, OCR is requiring the District to:
Create committees to oversee fundraising between teams that will not create disparities in equipment, uniforms, or supplies based on sex;
Ensure the softball field has the same features as the varsity baseball field;
Convert the existing baseball practice field into a multi-purpose field and ensure the softball team has equal access;
Provide equal access to locker room facilities;
Provide equivalent opportunities for female athletes to receive coaching;
Provide equal access to transportation to away games and matches for girls’ and boys’ programs;
Ensure the girls’ and boys’ teams receive equitable publicity from the school, including in the quality and quantity of social media posts and more;
Train employees who are involved in athletics programs about the District’s obligation under Title IX and it’s application to athletics; and
Ensure equal access the athletic trainer, weight room, and training facilities.
The factors OCR explains in the letter may be useful to any school or institution conducting an internal review or “wellness check” regarding Title IX athletics compliance. Here are some questions to consider:
When was our most recent review of our athletics program?
What are our risk points, for example, do we have teams that have particularly successful fundraising efforts, funding special supplies or equipment?
Do athletics staff who oversee scheduling, uniform and equipment purchasing, and more have an understanding of Title IX compliance obligations?
Do staff know where to go and what to do if they notice inequity in program components?
While this resolution agreement only applies to the District and its particular set of facts, its content can include important takeaways or reminders, especially as trends continue to develop in OCR’s reviews.