ACLU files class action lawsuit against DOE, OIA for Title IX non-compliance
Campbell High is at the center of this lawsuit, but the accusations extend to public schools across the state, and go back decades.
HONOLULU - The DOE and OIA, under fire! The ACLU files a massive lawsuit on Thursday against the state Department of Education and the Oahu Interscholastic Association.
How much harder is it for girls versus boys who play sports at public schools? The ACLU of Hawaii says, a lot.
ACLU of Hawaii Executive Director Joshua Wisch said, "Today, two female student-athletes attending James Campbell High School ("Campbell") filed a class action lawsuit in federal court against the Hawaii State Department of Education ("DOE") and the Oahu Interscholastic Association ("OIA"). The lawsuit is brought under Title IX, also known as the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act, a federal law that requires gender equity in education, including in athletics."
Campbell High is at the center of this lawsuit, but the accusations extend to public schools across the state, and go back decades. The ACLU says the DOE has been on notice since at least 1978 that it had to comply with the law.
"Title IX requires equal treatment and benefits in athletic programs – things like locker rooms, practice facilities, and competitive facilities; equipment and supplies; scheduling of games and practice times; availability and quality coaching; travel opportunities; medical and training services and facilities; participation opportunities, and publicity and promotion," said ACLU of Hawaii Legal Director Mateo Caballero.
The lawsuit says the DOE has failed - for decades- to provide that. It also says staff retaliates against students or advocates who speak out.
According to ACLU of Hawaii staff attorney Wookie Kim, "One of the plaintiffs said, 'I feel like I am left out and constantly having to fight for my equity and work five times harder for the opportunities and successes that I want as an athlete. It feels like we don't matter as much, and that the DOE only wants to fix things when it gets bad or when someone complains because they're caught in a mess, not because they care.'"
The lawsuit describes multiple violations, including:
• Male athletes at Campbell have a standalone athletic locker room facility located near the athletic fields, while female athletes have no facility and have to change clothes in teachers’ closets, in a fast food restaurant bathroom, and even on the practice field.
• During the 2017-18 school year, the DOE failed to secure a pool for the Campbell girls’ water polo team practice until after the season had begun, forcing the female athletes to hold dry-land and open-ocean swim practices – “poor substitutes that do not adequately prepare the athletes for pool competition,” claim the lawsuit.
• The DOE and the OIA book prime competitive facilities – such as Aloha Stadium – exclusively for boys’ sports programs.
• Games and tournaments are scheduled by the DOE and the OIA to give prime Friday evening athletic competition slots to boys’ sports programs, while girls’ sports programs are held on off days such as Tuesdays and Thursdays, which have less exposure and community attendance and force the girls to compete on school nights, putting their academic work at a disadvantage.
• The DOE and the OIA are diverting coaching funds intended for girls’ sports programs in order to hire more coaches for boys’ sports programs and to increase the pay of the boys’ coaches.
• Travel off the island of Oahu for practice, competition, and athletic enrichment is “disproportionately” reserved for boys’ sports – most notably the football program.
• Boys’ sports are promoted and advertised far more than girls’ sports. “Even Campbell’s website includes many photo albums of boys’ sports programs but not a single album for girls’ sports programs.”
• Title IX also requires that girls have a fair share of the athletic participation opportunities and the lawsuit alleges Campbell girls are discriminated against in this area as well. Girls are lacking approximately one hundred athletic opportunities at the school. Under the law, the percentage of girls represented in the student body should mirror the percentage of girls represented in the athletic program—currently, there are not enough teams on which girls can play, “leaving female students stuck on the sidelines, missing out on vital opportunities to enjoy and learn from sports experiences.”
Wisch said, “Litigation is always our last resort. But unfortunately, nearly half a century after Title IX was passed and after almost 10 months of trying to work with the DOE, it still failed to produce a substantive plan to comply with the law. And unfortunately, some schools have doubled down on violating Title IX. As noted in our complaint, after the plaintiffs complained formally to Campbell’s administrators, the school retaliated by threatening to ‘cancel’ the girls’ water polo program and even withheld funding and other support from it. This is unacceptable.”
The plaintiffs ask the court:
• To declare that the DOE and the OIA have illegally discriminated and retaliated against female student-athletes in violation of Title IX;
• To require the DOE and the OIA to comply with Title IX; and
• To oversee the DOE and the OIA until they fix the violations, ensuring gender equity in programming in the short- and long-term.
The plaintiffs seek no money for themselves. In making this a class action lawsuit, they say they want changes to the system for the benefit of themselves, present and future female athletes.
The DOE on Thursday said: "We have not received nor had a chance to review the lawsuit and are unable to provide information or a comment due to pending litigation."
The OIA told KITV4 it has no comment.
The ACLU of Hawaii has challenged the DOE over Title IX before. In 2010, the ACLU of Hawaii won a lawsuit against the DOE over gender inequities in the girls’ softball program at Maui’s Baldwin High School.
More information at https://acluhi.org/. A copy of the full complaint is on the ACLU's website at https://acluhawaii.files.wordpress.com/2018/12/titleix-filing.pdf.