EQUALITY IS MORE THAN JUST LOCKER ROOMS: DOE’S PRESS CONFERENCE HIDES PERSISTENT GENDER DISCRIMINATION IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Honolulu, Hawai‘i: The State Department of Education (DOE) held a press conference today announcing that Kalani High School is dedicating a new athletic facility, which includes a new girls’ athletic locker room facility. According to the DOE, this new “athletic facility project addresses Title IX and gender inequality by providing the school with its first girls’ athletic locker room.” That is only a small part of the story.

ACLU of Hawai’i Executive Director Joshua Wisch said: “We’re glad the female athletes at Kalani are getting these facilities, which they should have had years ago. This is a great day for them. We’re also pleased the DOE is finally acknowledging the Title IX and gender inequality issues that persist in our public schools. But what is troubling is the implication that this somehow fixes the problem. It doesn’t. Title IX is about more than just lockers. We tried working with the DOE for almost a year to get it to comply with Title IX. After it failed to even produce a plan, we filed our lawsuit. And even now that we’re in court, DOE’s response has been underwhelming.”
 
The ACLU of Hawai’i, along with co-counsel Simpson Thacher Bartlett, LLC and Legal Aid At Work filed a class action lawsuit against the DOE on December 6, 2018. DOE filed its answer, a copy of which is attached, on January 18, 2019.
 
ACLU of Hawai’i Staff Attorney Wookie Kim said: “In contrast to the DOE’s claims of progress, are its shocking responses to our lawsuit. Instead of taking responsibility for the lack of gender equity and committing to a plan to address it, the DOE claims in recent court filings, against all evidence, that its treatment of female athletes is “substantially equal” to its treatment of male athletes. DOE goes so far as to deny that Title IX requires schools to provide equal opportunities to participate in interscholastic athletics, and that Title IX prohibits retaliation against people who complain about sex discrimination.”

The female athletes who are plaintiffs in this case have an important perspective to share. Plaintiff A said: “Girls’ athletics are so important – females carry a lot of potential and their future is extremely important. Athletics and academics go hand in hand in high school and teach teens a lot, and females are just as deserving of that knowledge and growth, just as much as the males are.”

Wisch added, “While we celebrate todayʻs dedication at Kalani, there is still so much work to do to address whatʻs missing: equal practice time for female athletes, equal coaching, equal advertising for sports, athletic facilities in so many other public schools, and stopping the DOE’s threats to retaliate when female athletes complain. Now that DOE has publicly acknowledged the problem, we hope it will also take responsibility for it.”