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The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii on Tuesday said the Hawaii Department of Education’s response to its Feb. 9 letter demanding a solution to gender inequity for female athletes in public schools “raises more questions than it answers.”
The ACLU had sent a demand letter to the DOE after a Feb. 7 Civil Beat article on the lack of girls’ athletic locker rooms at a number of schools, including Campbell High School, which has the state’s highest enrollment. These schools do have boys’ athletic locker rooms.
The story looked into whether the DOE is complying with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the federal law that bans gender discrimination in a federally funded school or program.
The DOE had until Monday to respond to that letter, which requested it come up with a specific plan to address Title IX inequities in Hawaii public schools by the 2018-19 school year.
“DOE’s response included no such plan,” ACLU Hawaii said in a statement.
“The response we received from the DOE late last night raises more questions than it answers,” said ACLU Hawaii Executive Director Joshua Wisch. “It fails to provide the concrete plan we requested, cherry picks a few examples of supposed compliance from some schools, and generally obscures whether and to what extent DOE is complying with Title IX.”
In the DOE letter, Superintendent Christina Kishimoto listed Title IX gender equity projects currently underway at two schools and upcoming projects at three schools. She also cited six schools where male and female athletes share existing facilities.
Her response also listed eight schools — including Campbell High — that “have an athletic locker room for female athletes in the gym,” but it’s unclear whether these facilities are actually available to female athletes who participate in after-school sports. Also unclear is whether those schools have separate stand-alone locker rooms for boys without the equivalent for girls.
Civil Beat spoke with female athletes and school staff members at Campbell who said gym locker rooms were often locked and closed off to students during after-school hours. Female softball and track athletes at the school described having to change in empty classrooms, outside on the bleachers and running off-campus to use the restroom.
“The HIDOE remains committed to ensuring equal access to athletic facilities,” Kishimoto wrote. “Our active plans include annual checks on our school athletics facilities and programs to better anticipate project needs. When funding becomes available, the HIDOE will utilize its priority list to assure that school needs are addressed.”
Civil Beat reported that at least a third of the high schools on both Oahu and Kauai offer athletic locker rooms for boys but not girls, in addition to schools on Maui and the Big Island, according to the DOE’s 2016 statewide athletic master plan.
The ACLU in its demand letter said 14 schools in the state feature this gender inequity. It noted that “compliance with Title IX is not optional” and that it was “unfair and illegal that the female athletes of Hawaii have been denied full, equal access to the DOE’s athletic programs for this long.”
It asked the department to come up with a specific plan by this past Monday to address the issue, including expedited construction of girls’ locker rooms in schools that lack one, firm construction dates for such facilities or a proposal to allow “the alternating use of existing facilities between the boys’ and girls’ athletic teams on an equal basis.”
ACLU Legal Director Mateo Caballero said in a statement that the organization is continuing to investigate the matter.
“The response appears to cast doubt on the accuracy of the DOE’s own 2016 athletic plan,” Caballero said. “The response is also difficult to reconcile with what we have heard from students and parents regarding the availability of facilities for female athletes in their schools.”
DOE did not respond late Tuesday afternoon to a request for comment.
Wisch said the ACLU will seek a follow-up meeting with DOE officials to clarify some of the points raised in the department’s response. He said the ACLU’s goal is to resolve the matter without resorting to litigation.
“We appreciate the DOE’s stated availability to answer additional questions, because we certainly have some,” he said.
In 2010, the ACLU and private attorneys sued the DOE and Maui County over lack of girls’ athletic locker room facilities at Maui’s Baldwin High School. The parties reached a settlement.
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Read the DOE’s response to the ACLU demand letter here:
Read the ACLU’s Feb. 9 demand letter here: