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Feds to look into Title IX practices at 125 Wash. school districts

OLYMPIA – Federal officials are investigating whether more than 100 school districts across the state are discriminating against girls in their athletic programs.

Representatives of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office For Civil Rights will meet with state education officials next week to follow up on complaints that districts are violating Title IX, the federal rules that require equal treatment for women’s sports. The complaints date back to 2004 and involve districts all over the state.

Spokesmen for both the Education Department and the state’s Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction confirmed this week the meetings are scheduled but said privacy rules prevent them from saying much more at this point.

The civil rights office has “initiated a compliance review” involving Title IX, the 1972 law that requires schools provide equal opportunity for the athletic interests of students of both sexes, Jim Bradshaw of the U.S. Education Department said.

“The review will examine whether the OSPI is administering its responsibilities toward the school districts … or aiding or perpetuating discrimination with respect to athletic participation opportunities by providing significant assistance to schools that do not comply with this requirement,” Bradshaw said in a prepared statement.

Nathan Olson, a spokesman for the state school system, said the federal agency will be looking into complaints that 125 school districts aren’t complying with the law. The complaints are based on public records requests, he said.

OSPI has had complaints about sexual discrimination against female athletes alleging problems of inadequate numbers of teams, field sizes or locker room facilities, Olson said. “We’ve never had anything like this before, alleging 125 violations.”

Earlier this week, news organizations around the state were sent an anonymous email with a copy of a proposed lawsuit against the state and the school districts for Title IX violations involving 186 different schools. The proposal appears to be a qui tam lawsuit, which can be brought by a whistle-blower on behalf of the federal government to expose fraud, and seeks billions of dollars in damages from the state. It’s not signed and the complainant’s name is omitted from the copy sent to news organizations.

It’s not immediately clear if the proposed lawsuit is related to allegations in the Department of Education’s compliance review.

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