By Ellen J. Staurowsky, Ed.D., Senior Writer and Professor, Sports Media, Ithaca College Roy H. Park School of Communications, email@example.com
For administrators in the Phoenixville (PA) Area School District (PASD), the year 2023 ended with a U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) complaint filed by a high school female athlete and her parents. One of the questions raised in this case is whether the PASD has failed in providing gender equitable opportunities and treatment to girls participating in varsity sports. Another is whether PASD violated the Pennsylvania Disclosure of Interscholastic Athletics Opportunities Act that calls for schools to report participation opportunities and information in the form of expenditures and contributions.
According to a news account in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Kenzie Padilla and her parents’ journey to a Title IX complaint began the way it so often happens, with a simple observation. Why was it that the athletic accomplishments of the boys in the athletic department were recognized with more fanfare and resources than the accomplishments of the girls? After making school history in 2021 by winning their first Pioneer Athletic League championship in girls cross country, the athletes received commemorative t-shirts. In contrast, a year later, boys on the conference championship baseball team received rings, jackets, and a ceremony (Hanna, 2024).
What followed was a year long process of raising questions of school administrators and trying to find out information about how decisions were made regarding allocations to boys and girls teams. Athletic facilities and fields displayed banners and plagues celebrating men’s achievements but no mention of women. Boys received preferential treatment in being assigned access to better facilities for practices and games. Closer to home, Kenzie compared her situation to that of her brother, who also competed in the sport of cross country. She noticed that he got more gear and equipment than what was issued to her (Hanna, 2024).
Based on publicly available information. Padilla and her father determined that PASD was spending 27% more on boys baseball than girls softball; 30% more on boys soccer than girls soccer; and 33% more on boys basketball than girls basketball. They noted in their analysis, as published on a website they created called Phoenixville Title IX, they were unable to consider contributions from outside entities like booster clubs because that information was missing from the PASD disclosure. Costs associated with the renovation of the high school’s football stadium in 2022, including the removal of synthetic turf and its replacement as well as resurfacing of the track, was not accounted for in reports regarding athletic spending (Keystone Sports Construction, 2023).
Responding in a statement about the complaint issued by the PASD, spokesperson Nicole McClure offered an assurance that the school district was committed to Title IX compliance and offering gender equitable opportunities in athletics and all programs. McClure further noted, “Our commitment to this goal is evidenced by an ongoing full internal audit of our athletic program” (as quoted in Hanna, 2024).
The Padilla’s proposed a plan to bring the athletic department into compliance including surveying athletes about their experiences, developing a system of tracking booster money, creating a policy with common standards for athletic team recognition, and elevating the visibility of women in the athletic department by naming at least three facilities after women. From the perspective of the Padilla’s, the school district offered no timetable on when changes might be made in the athletic department or whether they agreed that change was required (Hanna, 2024).
Initial Impressions and Takeaways
In the lead up and immediate aftermath of Title IX’s 50th anniversary, researchers and investigative journalists alike reported that many athletic programs the college and university level were not complying with the law and mechanisms to hold high school programs accountable were wonting (Newhouse, 2022a; Newhouse, 2022b; Staurowsky et al., 2022). The process the Padillas are documenting on their website illustrates the connection between public disclosure and citizen education and action especially at the high school level. They note that while Pennsylvania requires school districts to document opportunities and resource allocations for students participating in athletics in grades 7 through 12, if that information is not disclosed in a timely manner and is incomplete such action raises more questions than it answers.
More directly, it potentially undermines claims that school districts are sincerely committed to complying with Title IX. Lack of access to information about athletic department decision making further delays at a local level efforts to remedy the deprivations caused when students are subjected to sex discrimination.
Status of the Padilla Complaint
As of this writing, the Padilla family awaits notification from the Office for Civil Rights in terms of next steps. As per OCR processing procedures (U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, 2022), their complaint is subject to review and a decision made as to whether an investigation will move forward.
Hanna, M. (2024, January 3). Phoenixville family filed Title IX complaint against school district,
Keystone Sports Construction. (2023). Phoenixville High School track and field: Project overview. Website. https://keystonesportsconstruction.com/phoenixville-high-school-track-and-field/
Newhouse, K. (2022a, April 11). Federal Title IX data on sports participation is unreliable. CNSMaryland.org. https:// cnsmaryland.org/2022/04/11/title-ix-federal-sports-data/
Newhouse, K. (2022b, April 11). Poll: Most parents, students know “nothing at all” about Title IX. CNSMaryland.org. https:// cnsmaryland.org/2022/04/11/title-ix-poll/
Pennsylvania Department of Education. (2024). Disclosure of Interscholastic Athletic Opportunity. Website. https://www.education.pa.gov/Teachers%20-%20Administrators/Interscholastic%20Athletic%20Opportunity/Pages/default.aspx
Staurowsky, E. J., Flowers, C. L., Buzuvis, E., Darvin, L., & Welch, N. (2022). 50 Years of Title IX: We’re Not Done Yet. Women’s Sports Foundation. https://www.womenssportsfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/Title-IX-at-50-Report-FINALC-v2-.pdf
U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights. (2022). OCR complaint processing procedures. Website. https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/complaints-how.html