Gender bias probe of city school sports stalls System's slow response puts U.S. months behind schedule.

July 22, 1991|By Mike Klingaman | Mike Klingaman,Evening Sun Staff

A federal investigation of possible discrimination against girls' sports in Baltimore high schools has fallen months behind schedule and probably will not end until late fall, say government officials.

The probe, triggered last December by a student's complaint, was to have been completed by May 10. But the investigation was delayed because written reports requested by the government arrived late from the city school system.

The student's complaint was filed with the Office of Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education, following an Evening Sun ** series about disparities between girls' and boys' athletic programs.

"We are still awaiting a data request from one school, and the investigation is basically on hold until we receive that data," says Roger Murphy, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education in Washington.

Federal officials are generally required to conclude such investigations within 135 days.

"This case has been pushed to the point where we have to wait for all parties to return to school" in September, says Murphy. On-site investigations at some or all of the city's 16 public high schools will probably be done then, he says.

The complaint, filed under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, alleges that city high schools deny female students equal athletic opportunity.

The Evening Sun series, which appeared last October, showed how the girls' sports program lags behind boys' sports in emphasis and resources and must leap many hurdles erected mostly by increasingly tight school budgets.

Several of the athletic directors in the high schools still maintain that the problem is dollars, not discrimination.

"In Baltimore City, the bottom line is that you don't get enough money [for athletics] and you're constantly robbing Peter to pay Paul," says Roger Wrenn, athletic director at Patterson High.

City school officials were notified of the federal inquiry Dec. 27 and told to return questionnaires totaling more than 120 pages within 15 days. The inquiry involves disparities in such areas as athletic equipment, uniforms and practice times.

However, much of the requested data was not filed with investigators until April, due in part to administrative problems at city school headquarters.

"[The request] bounced around until it landed on the right desk. Unfortunately, that's the way things go all too often in government," says Douglas J. Neilson, spokesman for the city schools.

The school administration has not been contacted by federal officials since February, according to Neilson.

"We haven't heard 'boo,' " he says.

At stake is $54.7 million of projected federal aid to city schools for 1992, some of which could be withheld by the government if civil rights violations are found and not addressed.

Federal officials are not distracted by long delays, says Murphy. In any inquiry, he says, "if we find that records were altered or attempts made to suppress the facts in the case, we can turn it over to the Justice Department."

Last year, the U.S. Department of Education took a hard stand against a county school system in Georgia which denied authorities access to investigate a civil rights complaint. The school officials acquiesced when their federal aid was temporarily rescinded.

In interviews last week, two athletic directors of Baltimore high schools said disparities may exist at individual schools but there is no system-wide policy of favoring boys' programs.

"If there is a breach of Title IX, it's pretty much school-based," says Dave Lang, athletic director at Southwestern High. "I think it's more of a 'pocket' problem than a system-wide problem."

Patterson's Wrenn agrees. "There are some [athletic & 2/3 departments] where the men and women are at war," he says. "I'm glad I'm not in that situation."

The Evening Sun series on girls' sports was called "High Hurdles." In interviews with 40 coaches, athletic directors, teachers and others close to the situation in city public high schools, the newspaper was told:

* Girls' teams often must settle for second best in uniforms, equipment and other essentials.

* Girls have fewer sports to choose from than boys at the same city school -- and fewer choices than girls in county high schools.

* Many girls' teams are coached by men who can't have the same role-model effect as women, and there are few women in key administrative positions to fight for girls' sports.

* There are few female physical education teachers to inspire girls to go out for teams.

* Athletic budgets at the 16 high schools are so tight that a boost to bring the girls' program into line would mean slashing the boys' program below the bare bones.

"If the government wants to know if we spend an adequate amount of money on [girls'] volleyball, the answer is no," says Wrenn. "But we don't spend a proper amount on boys' basketball either.

"We just try to spread the misery around."

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