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Midvale Journal

Canyons, other districts settle Title IX lawsuit, aim to promote equality in sports

Feb 09, 2024 12:59PM ● By Julie Slama

Six years after filing a discrimination lawsuit, Canyons and two other school districts settled this fall, promising an increase in promoting girls high school sports. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

Six years after filing a discrimination lawsuit for not providing sanctioned girls tackle football teams in Utah high schools, the three named school districts—Canyons, Jordan and Granite—reached a settlement.

Brought about by former football standout Sam Gordon and five other female players who lived within those districts’ boundaries, the settlement reached this past fall will hopefully result in increased opportunities for girls in high school athletics, said Canyons School District Director of High Schools Tom Sherwood.

“Basically, it spelled out some things that we need to do better as school districts in terms of honoring Title IX,” he said. “One of the agreements in the settlement is we will be more intentional in promoting girls high school sports beginning as early as elementary schools and in middle schools.”

That is one of Canyons District’s focuses in 2024.

“We have assigned all the high school [athletic directors] to help promote Title IX at their elementary and middle schools and in addition, each middle school now has a middle school administrator assigned to be a Title IX specialist,” Sherwood said. “We’re in the process of creating more intentional recruitment in spring to the middle schools specifically talking about girls sports. We’ll be doing promotional posters and being more proactive in promoting girls high school athletics. Before, we would go to the schools and say: ‘Hey, get involved in high school. We have lots to offer. We have sports, choir, band, dance and all the activities,’ but this is very specific to promoting girls sports in middle schools and even elementary to narrow the participation gap.”

Sherwood, who was named as the director of high schools, also is the Title IX compliance athletic officer. He said as part of continuing to seek student input, Canyons District will survey female students to determine interest level in female sports and activities in future years. Sports, such as girls tackle football, may apply to become a student-led club sport within the district and can advertise on campuses and request to use school facilities.

While Title IX doesn’t specifically say athletics, it’s commonly known in the sports world as a way to equalize opportunity for girls and women.
“There is a three-prong test (practiced by the National Federation of State High School Associations) that’s been accepted by the Office of Civil Rights to determine Title IX compliance in schools,” he said. “One of the three prongs is proportionality in funding, facilities and participation, meaning that the ratio of female participation is close to the ratio of female enrollment. So, for example, Jordan High has 50:50 enrollment (of males and females), and they have 50:50 participation. Our other four comprehensive high schools are all within 6% in variability between participation and enrollment.” Sherwood added that in late January, he will present those findings within athletics to the Canyons Board of Education in compliance with new state code 53G-6-1101 that states each district must report it annually and have an action plan to address discrepancies greater than 10 percent.

However, Sherwood isn’t just reporting the numbers. The other parts of the three-prong test are to show the district is striving to increasing opportunities for female athletes and accommodating interest.
“I’m aware that there’s a 6% gap, and even if I never achieve complete equality, what am I doing to close the gap?” he said. “How could we support and expand opportunities for females specifically? In terms of expansion, [Utah High School Activities Association] recently added lacrosse, but again, that’s for both boys and girls. Cheer is much more participated in by girls than by boy,s and that was the last dominant girl sport sanctioned; however, in spring 2024, boys volleyball will be sanctioned, so it put us back in achieving participation equality. One thing we’ve learned from all this is that UHSAA does not receive any federal funding, so they are not responsible for being compliant in the local school districts. It’s the districts that need to follow the tenants of Title IX, to find that balance and to ensure we’re supporting growth in female sports.”

Sherwood said the UHSAA, which also was part of the lawsuit, was not included in the settlement.

In interest of equality, Sherwood reviews budget, gear and facilities.

“There’s been a light shined on equity of facilities,” he said. “Canyons School District has been very intentional through its facilities’ improvements to ensure there is equality in our facilities, uniforms, equipment, gear and financial commitment uses of gyms and other rooms. We’ve had a lot of progress in just the past few years in terms of how we approach girls and boys athletics. As far as the spirit of Title IX and Canyons District, by our current levels of participation, facilities’ compliance, and efforts to expand female participation, we’re doing a pretty good job.” λ