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Brown sex discrimination ruling may mean changes on high school level

November 21, 1997

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) _ The enormous changes expected after Brown University was found to be discriminating against women athletes won’t come only in college sports programs.

Lawyers and activists who follow the issue say high schools will have to make their programs more equitable as well _ or prepare to become the next legal target.

``One of the messages of Brown is that you ain’t seen nothing yet,″ said Donna Lopiano of the Women’s Sports Foundation in East Meadow, N.Y.

``All these lawsuits started at the college level because parents were worried about their kids away from home. Now, we’re going to see an increase at the high school level,″ she said Thursday.

The U.S. Supreme Court in April let stand a 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that found Brown failed to comply with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibit sexual discrimination at schools that receive federal money.

Other universities responded with sweeping changes.

In October, Boston University announced it would drop its varsity football program at the end of the season to redirect money to other sports programs, particularly ones for women.

The pressures that prompted the Brown lawsuit are building at high schools as well. Girls are demanding better coaching, more money for travel and equal access to fields and facilities.

``Certain women’s teams have been forced to compete off-season because of field limitations. Since they’re out of season, college recruiters don’t see them play and they’re out of the running for athletic scholarships. That’s a serious issue,″ said Marcia Greenberger, of the National Women’s Law Center.

The group settled six cases against high schools so far this year.

``The Brown case has definitely been a factor in raising public awareness,″ Greenberger said. ``It’s been a wake-up call across the country.″

At the Blackstone-Millville Regional High School in Blackstone, Mass., female athletes brought ripped uniforms, outdated equipment and complaints about practice times to administrators and quickly won substantial improvements, said Marilyn Dufresne, the school’s Title IX coordinator.

``The girls are passionate about sports now. Their parents are more knowledgeable. The girls see the scholarships and the benefits. The push is going to come from them,″ Dufresne said.

Girls at other schools might not be so successful. Some public schools use money as an excuse to avoid complying with the law, claimed Lynette Labinger, the lead lawyer for the women who sued Brown.

Remedies that don’t involve more spending are available, she said.

An old field can be put back in use, girls and boys can alternate practice times, and deals can be made to use facilities in neighboring school districts until a permanent solution is found, she said.

``There’s always a way to do it,″ Labinger said at a Providence conference on the 25th anniversary for Title IX. ``The school’s should be saying, `We got away with it for 25 years. Now, let’s get to it.‴

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