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Sioux Falls School District plans sports survey

SIOUX FALLS (AP) — The Sioux Falls School District will survey students this fall about their interest in various sports, a move officials say is not directly related to a complaint about equal opportunities for female athletes but is influenced by it.

The National Women’s Law Center in 2012 filed complaints against 12 school districts nationwide, including Sioux Falls. Officials said they believe the districts violated Title IX, the federal law prohibiting gender discrimination in federally funded education programs.

The Sioux Falls case remains open. At least four other schools districts have reached settlements with the federal Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights, agreeing to survey students and consider adding more girls’ sports or teams.

Sioux Falls Assistant Superintendent Sue Simons told the Argus Leader that the complaint “raised the district’s awareness about the issue.”

Surveys will be given to male and female students in grades 7-12 this fall Results will be used to determine which sports, if any, would be worth sanctioning. One possibility is soccer, which the South Dakota High School Activities Association recently began to sanction. Like most districts, Sioux Falls has declined to make boys or girls soccer a formal school activity, citing the cost of adding a sport.

The school board on Monday unveiled proposed revisions to a policy governing school athletic programs. The board will take public input for a month before voting on the policy changes. According to the proposed policy, the survey of students will be issued at least every five years, and more often if the response rate is below 50 percent, a complaint is filed, a request for a new team is made or there are big shifts in the district’s demographics.

Superintendent Pam Homan said the district already was making those efforts, but they weren’t explicitly spelled out in district policy.

“It was a matter, for us, of putting our practices out there,” she said.

Simons said the district remains in talks with the Office of Civil Rights to resolve the complaint, but she declined further comment. School board member Kate Parker, who sits on the policy review committee, said board members wanted to be proactive while they wait for the government to answer the district’s initial response to the complaint.

“I think this has been a three-year process so far,” Parker said. “While we’re waiting for their response we wanted to put something in place.”

The 2010 complaint against Sioux Falls cited Office of Civil Rights data showing that in 2006 as much as 50 percent of the student population in Sioux Falls was female but only about 35 percent of the district’s athletes were female.

The district at the time said incomplete data were cited, and that all athletic opportunities, including club and intramural sports, should be considered for Title IX compliance — not just sanctioned sports.