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Erie Community College settles Title IX case on women’s access to athletics

The U.S. Department of Education announced Tuesday that it has reached a settlement with Erie Community College to resolve female students’ unequal access to athletic opportunities.

The voluntary resolution ends a civil rights investigation.

Over three academic seasons, female students at ECC were denied the same opportunities as males to participate in intercollegiate athletics, according to an investigation by the department.

The department’s Office for Civil Rights found the two-year institution out of compliance with the 1972 Title IX rules that prohibit sex discrimination in federally funded education programs.

“I applaud Erie Community College’s ongoing efforts to provide male and female students with an equal opportunity to participate in the college’s intercollegiate athletic program,” Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights, said in a statement. “This agreement demonstrates the college’s strong commitment to its students.”

The agreement includes 11 steps to remedy the disparity, including:

• Conduct a survey of women in ECC’s student body aimed at determining their possible interests and abilities in sports opportunities that the college does not currently offer to them.

• Review why any viable women’s team has been suspended or eliminated in the last 10 years.

• Examine participation rates in high schools, amateur athletic associations and community sports leagues in the area to determine possible additional sports for the college.

• Examine the athletic participation opportunities at other colleges in the region to determine whether those schools offer sports for women that ECC does not.

“Basically, we’ve got a resolution, and we’re moving forward in a very positive way, and that’s a good thing for us and our students,” ECC President Jack F. Quinn Jr. said in a telephone message Tuesday.

The Office for Civil Rights conducted its investigation in response to a complaint that ECC discriminated on the basis of sex in its intercollegiate athletics program.

The office compared the number of male and female full-time students enrolled at ECC with the number of athletic opportunities available to each sex within the college’s athletic program for the academic years 2011-14.

Their investigation found that over those three years, the college on average offered only 32 percent of its athletic opportunities to women, compared with 68 percent for men.

On average, women made up 49.5 percent of the college’s student body, compared with 50.5 percent for men. ECC receives financial assistance from the Department of Education and is required to be in compliance with Title IX.

The Office for Civil Rights, or OCR, found that although ECC has increased the number of women’s sports since creating the women’s athletics program in the early 1970s, it has also added several men’s sports and cut several sports, including five women’s sports.

“Therefore, OCR could not conclude that the college has a history of program expansion that is demonstrably responsive to the developing interests and abilities of the underrepresented sex,” the Department of Education said in its statement.

Before the office had completed its investigation, the college asked to resolve the complaint and on March 3 entered into a resolution agreement, the department said.

ECC must submit a draft of the college’s survey of its female student body and identify any sports, squads or levels of sports for female students that are not currently being offered by the college.

Among the requirements of the settlement, ECC must also review the number of female students cut from any sports teams over the last four years and document the reasons.

County Attorney Michael A. Siragusa said college officials are working on ways to adhere to the agreement, although he noted that it comes with challenges for ECC.

“It’s just a challenge at a community college, I think, because of the average age of the student,” Siragusa said.

“It’s a two-year program, as opposed to a four-year program. You don’t have dormitories there. At institutions where the kids are dorming, they tend to be more involved in things like sports, especially.”