Rash guard policy may violate Title IX

Rash guard policy may violate Title IX

Assembly Bill No.1575, passed in 2012, is a law enacted to prohibit California public schools illegally charging student fees to take part in educational activities, according to Southern Public Radio on May 28, 2014, state officials report that over 150 appeals have been received from people claiming schools were in violation of this law.

This school could be one of them.

The swim unit that takes place in every physical education class requires students to purchase swimming attire in order to participate. Teachers and administrators are adamant about only female students purchasing a rash guard.

Despite PE uniforms being available at the beginning of the year, swim suits are not made available for students who could not purchase their own, nor are there any scholarship or financial aid options presented to students unable to afford them.

California law bars a school district from charging a fee for any supply, material, or equipment necessary to participate in an educational activity.  So, while it is fine for a school district to allow a student to bring his/her/their own swimsuit for P.E. class, the District must still have an option to provide one, free of charge, to a student in order to allow the student participate in the mandatory class unit,” said Wesley Cedros, the district’s Senior Director of Student Services.        

The option of schools providing financial aid for swimsuits could be technically available, however, is not explicit or presented to students in PE classes. Instead, teachers rely on students coming forward about needing financial aid.

Requiring the purchase of a swimsuit applies to every person participating in the class, however girls are additionally required to buy a rash guard, or in some cases wear a T-shirt instead.

Wearing a T-shirt while swimming can be found uncomfortable and heavy due to cotton being highly absorbent of water, possibly weighing students down while swimming. On top of that, this idea was not presented in all PE classes. “Last year the girls in my class was never told that we could wear anything other than rash guards. I feel like this discriminated against some people who may not be able to buy new clothing easily,” Sophomore Sonya Adler said.

Often times when students would come forward to their PE teachers, complaining about the rash guard requirement, teachers would argue that it is simply a district policy.

“I have had several conversations with my PE teachers last year regarding this issue, as well as school administrators. However, every time I seemed to get the same response: that it was beyond their control and a district policy,” Junior Phoebe Blantz said.

However, after meticulously searching the district website as well as our schools student handbook, this district policy is nowhere to be found in print.

“I tried searching for why this policy is enforced, however I found no information regarding rash guards being mandatory. However I did learn about Title XI, and it made me think about how this rule could be in possible violation.”

Title XI is a federal law that states no person in the United States should be excluded from, on the basis of sex, participation in, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity.

“Requiring only females to wear and possibly purchase an additional swimwear item in order to participate in the swim unit could be a form of discrimination based upon sex. Too often, as an example, we see gender discrimination against women couched as restricting attire so it doesn’t create a distraction. This places an unfair burden on the woman in the situation to moderate her way of dressing in order to make everyone else (most often men) comfortable,” Cedros said.

If this policy could potentially violate Title XI, Cedros responded by revealing the complexity of the issue,

“I think I would need to get a legal opinion because my final answer would probably depend on more information about the context/reasoning in which the demand is made,” he said.

A simple resolution to this situation could include the requirement of all genders wearing rash guards throughout the swim unit, as well as presenting explicit financial aid options to all PE classes.