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Girls' Sports Get 'Grossly Unequal Treatment' in Hawaii, Lawsuit Says

Elizabeth Kristen and Joshua Wisch
Attorney Elizabeth Kristen and Hawaii ACLU executive director Joshua Wisch via Facebook

The ACLU of Hawaii says the state is violating federal law against sex discrimination in education.

The state of Hawaii is violating federal law by discriminating against girls in athletics, a new class action lawsuit contends.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii, representing female athletes in the state's public schools, filed suit Thursday against the state's Department of Education and the Oahu Interscholastic Association, saying the girls receive "grossly unequal treatment" compared to male athletes, in violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits sex discrimination in education. The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Honolulu.

The named plaintiffs are students as James Campbell High School in Honolulu, but they represent all similarly situated students, according to the suit. Female athletes at the school face numerous inequities and indignities, the ACLU contends.

The school has a boys-only locker room for student athletes, the suit says, so girls have to "lug their athletic gear around all day" and find other places to change clothes, with some changing on the field or at a nearby Burger King. Also, the nearest girls' restrooms are much farther away than the boys' rooms. The school's pool is reserved for the boys' water polo team, so the girls' team must practice on an ocean beach or dry land, neither of which prepares them appropriately for pool competition.

The inequities continue across the state, according to the suit. The best time slots for games - usually Friday nights - are reserved for boys' sports. So are the best facilities. Boys' sports receive a disproportionate share of travel funds, and money intended for coaches of girls' sports has been diverted to increase the pay of the boys' coaches, the ACLU says.

The Department of Education has promised to address the disparities but has failed to do so, the suit says.

"Litigation is always our last resort," ACLU of Hawaii executive director Joshua Wisch said at a press conference Thursday, local station KITV reports. "But unfortunately, nearly half a century after Title IX was passed and after almost 10 months of trying to work with the DOE, it still failed to produce a substantive plan to comply with the law. And unfortunately, some schools have doubled down on violating Title IX. As noted in our complaint, after the plaintiffs complained formally to Campbell's administrators, the school retaliated by threatening to 'cancel' the girls' water polo program and even withheld funding and other support from it. This is unacceptable."

The press conference was held in Honolulu near a statue of the late U.S. Rep. Patsy Mink, the author of Title IX.

The Department of Education and the Oahu Interscholastic Association have so far declined comment on the suit.

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