A foundation has offered to donate $50,000 to support athletics at Darien (Connecticut) High School, but the Board of Education is exercising caution about whether to accept the funds, which are earmarked for the support of football ($25,000), girls’ swimming ($12,500) and girls’ lacrosse ($12,500). The Board wants to make sure it can use the funds without creating new disparities between boys’ and girls’ sports, or exacerbating those that have been the subject of recent Office for Civil Rights investigation and agreement.
The Board is right to exercise caution, as Title IX does not contain any exceptions for discrimination supported by donations or other private funding. A school could not, for example, use a gift to provide luxury accommodations for the football team where no girls team receives similar treatment. It would also be problematic if spending the gift equally on girls’ and boys’ sports brought the quality of the best-supported girls’ teams from fair to good and the quality of the best-supported boys’ team from good to great. Thus, it concerns me a little that in its outline of how it would spend the money, the school district proposes purchasing basic amenities for girls’ teams (like offset of the pool rental for the swim team and bus travel for lacrosse) and what might be considered luxury items for the football team (“computer equipment, professional development for coaches, buses and lifting platforms.”) However, this is not necessarily unlawful, as long as the school district can ensure that girls’ and boys’ programs in the aggregate have comparable equipment, facilities, supplies, and other resources. It may be that the district money that would have gone to pool rental, say, can be used to ensure that girls teams have whatever technological support, professionally trained coaches, and other equipment they might require.
All in all, the fact that the donor supported both girls and boys sports makes it easier for Darien to accept and use the gift. However, it certainly would have been better and fairer had the gift been unrestricted for athletics. That way, the district could have used as much as it needed to offset existing disparities first.