NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)– Last spring, administrators at Beacon High School in Manhattan handed out a survey to students.

Rising sophomore Anjali Rao says no explanation or context was given for the questionnaire, which probed her school’s sports offerings and her sports preferences.

The survey didn’t seem like a big deal to Rao. "Beacon is known for its sports," said the 15 year old in a recent interview at Women’s eNews’ office here. "Girls play the same sports as boys."

But the information gained from it–due out this fall from the New York Department of Education–may help the country’s largest school system provide girls with more team sports opportunities at its more than 400 high schools.

In February, the U.S. Department of Education determined that many female students in the system did not enjoy equal athletic "opportunities," a violation of Title IX, the federal law mandating that all schools with public funding provide equitable educational opportunities and benefits; sports included. (A participation opportunity is defined as a roster spot for one athlete on one team in one sport.)

The finding followed a complaint filed by the Washington-based National Women’s Law Center against New York City public schools and 11 other school systems across the country in 2010 for violating Title IX.

In the case of New York schools, the National Women’s Law Center–in perusing the system’s Title IX school reports–found that boys had more than 3,800 more opportunities to play sports in New York City public high schools. For example at just one school–Washington Irving High School–male students have nearly 300 more opportunities to join team sports.

Additional Agreements

In addition to surveying students, the New York Department of Education also agreed–among other preliminaries–to develop a process for students to request additional sports opportunities, provide Title IX training for all athletic directors and offer descriptions of all sports to students during physical education classes.

More girls’ teams should arise after all that.

Over the next four school years–to help close that 3,800 gap in spots on teams–New York’s DOE plans to add nearly 500 new teams, the majority of them girls’ teams, and by the 2019-2020 school year expects to have full parity between male and female athletic participation, according to Jason Fink, deputy press secretary at the New York Department of Education.

Failing to comply with Title IX potentially puts a school at risk of either losing federal funding or being forced to change programming and pay damages to students for lost opportunities.

No institution to date has lost federal funding, but some schools have experienced delays in receiving federal funds and have had to pay substantial damages and attorney fees in cases brought to court.

Few institutions are in full compliance with Title IX and many coaches have little understanding of the law.

Anwar Gladden, head coach of the South Shore High School girls’ basketball team in Brooklyn, said in a phone interview that he only received thorough education about the federal law because he and his team attended a tournament and conference in Washington, D.C., that required all participating coaches and players to attend seminars on Title IX.

Jane Berentson, flag football coach of New York Lab School in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, said she learned about Title IX back when she herself was in high school, not during teacher training.

Athletic directors, not coaches such as Gladden and Berentson, would be responsible for implementing such training. Athletic directors at South Shore High and New York Lab Schools could not be reached for comment.

‘Enormous Progress’

"The Department of Education has made enormous progress in our efforts to ensure that female students are fully participating in athletics and we will be expanding those efforts even further," said Fink, of the New York Department of Education, in a phone interview.

Rao hopes this is true. She used to swim competitively before entering high school, but Beacon does not have a swim team or a pool. She joined the cross country team to stay in shape and meet new people.

"When you are on a team, you actually get exercise," she said.

In her physical education, or gym, classes, on the other hand, Rao complained that a lot of time is spent waiting for a turn to participate. Rao recalled 50 students being "squished" into an area where they were expected to play volleyball, kickball and practice yoga.

She added that her gym teachers did not actively recruit students for sports, though coaches of all teams spoke to freshman about sports offered at the beginning of the year. "In order to play on a team, you kind of have to pursue it on your own."

Gym teachers are not required to recruit athletes from gym classes. But public schools are mandated to provide the Office of Civil Rights with numbers on student enrollment and team sports activities.

Nongovernmental organizations have access to this data, which is how New York City was confronted about its sports inequities.

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