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A school’s women’s softball team lacks adequate facilities while the men’s baseball team possesses state-of-the-art training resources. A high school student is the target of sexual harassment from a classmate. A school district requires pregnant students to take their academic classes at a special facility. All of these situations could fall within the reach of Title IX, a 1972 statute that prohibits gender discrimination in educational institutions receiving federal funding. But students and their parents often fail to assert their Title IX rights, said Linda Wharton, founder of the new Gender Equity in Education Clinic at Rutgers University School of Law-Camden, N.J. And a lack of attorneys “who are motivated and trained to take cases raising these issues” is, she says, part of the problem. The Gender Equity in Education Clinic, which opened this fall and is staffed by Rutgers-Camden law students, will try to fill that gap. The clinic will provide advocacy and counseling for New Jersey schools, students and parents. “Public education and community outreach will be a large aspect of the clinic’s work,” said Wharton. In addition to holding workshops aimed at schools, students and parents, the clinic will produce educational materials on Title IX. The advocacy work of the clinic will also include writing model legislation. The clinic will also engage in direct representation, but on a limited basis during its first year. As the program grows and support staff is added, said Wharton, the clinic’s involvement in direct representation and litigation will increase. Program participants and school officials hope that the program will have a positive effect on local schools, students, and parents who, as a result of confusion and a host of other factors, have been slow to act on their rights under Title IX. DECADES OF PROGRESS Twenty-eight years after Title IX was enacted, the statute has had a significant impact on closing the gender gap in education. Since its enactment, the number of women acquiring graduate and professional degrees and participating in math programs and sports has risen. The percentage of women participating in college varsity athletics, according to the American Association of University Women, skyrocketed from 2 percent in 1972 to 40 percent in 1999. Yet “despite the striking progress since the passage of Title IX,” said Wharton, former managing attorney of the Women’s Law Project in Philadelphia, “equally striking inequalities continue to exist.” Wharton singles out sexual harassment, discrimination against pregnant students, verbal and physical abuse of gay students, and unfair treatment of female athletes as areas that still require work. According to Wharton, implementation of Title IX is especially uneven at the middle- and high-school levels. For example, in athletics — which Wharton sees as the most active area of Title IX litigation today — efforts to achieve parity have centered on the college level. But today, she said, there is “more noncompliance at the middle and high school levels.” And it is on this segment of the education system that the clinic will focus its efforts. Here, said Wharton, the availability of legal services is particularly low and the stakes are especially high. Unequal athletic programming in secondary schools can have significant consequences. Statistics, explained Wharton, show that many women participate in athletics early in their lives, but, disheartened by inferior facilities and coaching, they drop out before they get to college. Wharton traces the lack of pre-college Title IX activity to parents and students who lack information regarding their legal rights. Many are also discouraged by “the high cost and slow pace of litigation” and by a fear of retaliation, she added. HIGH DEGREE OF INTEREST Rutgers-Camden’s experience to date indicates that there is no lack of law students interested in changing the situation. The clinic, capped at 12 students to allow for close faculty supervision, had a waiting list over double that size. Currently, several members of the clinic’s staff are developing a handbook on the legal rights of gay students. The handbook, produced in conjunction with the Center for Lesbian and Gay Law and Public Policy and the Women’s Law Project, will cover topics ranging from harassment in schools to efforts to exclude gay youth organizations. While most of the focus will be on New Jersey, Wharton said she doesn’t rule out tackling legal issues that arise in Philadelphia as well. Dianne McKay, chair of the New Jersey Council on Gender Parity and Labor and Education, which is housed in New Jersey’s Employment and Training Commission, sees the program as an “absolutely wonderful opportunity for male and female [law] students to get involved in an exciting area of law.” The Rutgers-Camden Clinic, she said, will likely serve as a national model. In addition to emphasizing equality in athletics, the clinic will address harassment of students based on gender, the rights of pregnant and parenting students, and sexuality education.

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