By Ron Leir
A Kearny parent has filed a federal civil rights complaint against the Board of Education.
The complaint, filed in December 2014 by Paula Cavalier, alleges that the high school has violated Title 9 of federal education law which forbids discrimination on the basis of sex in federally-supported education programs.
Cavalier’s complaint alleges that the high school is favoring the boys crew over the girls crew team by denying the girls the chance to participate in regionally competitive races in which the boys crew participates.
And, the complaint says, the school discriminates against the girls crew by giving the male crew priority access to equipment.
Kenneth Lindenfelser, attorney for the school board, said that, “there was a complaint filed by a parent alleging Title 9 violations” and that the U.S. Dept. of Education’s Office of Civil Rights “has asked for information that we are in the process of gathering and which we will be providing.”
Lindenfelser said the feds wanted the materials “by Feb. 18” but because the scope of the information sought involves all interscholastic sports activities in which Kearny High participates, collecting all the information – items including each program’s “budget, number of participants, age of uniforms and type of equipment” – collection of the data has become “tedious to assemble.”
For that reason, he said, he is asking the feds if the district can limit its research to crew but, if not, “we’ll probably ask for an extension.”
The district, the attorney said, “is confident we’re in compliance, but we’re going to cooperate with them and if they find that some type of adjustment is needed, we’ll make it.”
He declined to elaborate. In her complaint, Cavalier attached a spread sheet detailing the boys and girls crew competitions for 2014. From an analysis of those events, Cavalier drew this conclusion:
“The boys raced against 151 more teams than the girls, mainly because they raced on Sunday, when the most competitive races occur. These are the races most likely to draw college recruiters, so that girls who cannot race on Sundays have reduced access to scholarships, as compared with boys. This is mostly due to the fact that the girls’ crew coach declines to work on Sundays, for religious reasons. The majority of competitive rowing on the east coast occurs on Sundays. … Under Title 9, the school district is required to afford equal opportunities to female athletes. Because the Kearny school district could easily find a solution to this inequality, I have contacted the Office of Civil Rights ….”
Ironically, according to logs obtained by Cavalier, more girls participated in crew than boys last year. “For 2014, 40 girls signed up, as compared with 36 boys,” she told The Observer.
Under the projected schedule for 2015 competitions, Cavalier said, “The boys will be racing 296 more teams than the girls, which is worse than last year’s inequality of 151 more teams.”
And getting less exposure than the boys crew in bigger competitive races “attended by regional, Ivy League college recruiters” means that girls’ chances of landing athletic scholarships are negatively impacted, she said.
Although her daughter is a member of the girls crew team, Cavalier said that she filed the discrimination complaint as an advocate for the entire girls crew team, and not just as her daughter.
“I hope she realizes that sometimes, you have to do what you might be afraid to do for the bigger picture, to right a wrong,” she said.
Last year, Cavalier said, it was embarrassing for the girls crew members when “our immediate regional competition, like the girls teams from Nutley, Belleville, Rutherford, for example, were at the Sunday Philadelphia Rowing Association races, and Kearny was not represented.”
Possible solutions, Cavalier suggested, include allowing assistant crew coaches for boys and girls to “work out a schedule so that both teams can attend the same competitions,” merging the boys and girls crew “so that they can compete in the same races as a unit” or replacing the girls’ crew coach.
Back in 1983 when Cavalier was a student at Kearny High and an avid cyclist, she asked if she could go out for crew, only to be told there were no girls permitted “because they had no separate showers or bathrooms.”
Three years later, she recalled, a girls crew team materialized.
“Today, ironically, more than 30 years later, we’re still running into a situation of inequality for girls,” she said.
Last year, Cavalier revived her high school dream by taking lessons with the Passaic River Rowing Association and has relished the experience. “When you’re a crew and rowing as one unit, it all clicks together. Together, you become one quiet, beautiful machine.”