INDIANAPOLIS — A federal consent decree in which 10 southeastern Indiana high schools agree to schedule girls and boys basketball games equally on Friday and Saturday nights sets a legal precedent for the entire state, one of the attorneys in the case said Tuesday.
The consent decree between Franklin County Community School Corp., former girls basketball coach Amber Parker and nine of its opponent schools calls for girls and boys games to be scheduled equally by the 2016-17 school year, with interim steps until then, said attorney William Groth, who represented Parker in the case.
The decree approved Monday in federal court in Indianapolis applies directly only to the 10 schools but sets a solid legal precedent across the entire 7th U.S. Circuit because the federal appeals court ruled earlier this year that equal scheduling for both genders is required under Title IX of the Higher Education Act, Groth said.
"The 7th Circuit's decision earlier this year sent a clear message not only to the lower federal courts but to all high school athletic directors that Title IX requires equality in all phases of high school athletics, including the scheduling of athletic contests," Groth said.
Parker filed suit in 2009 on behalf of a daughter and while coaching at the school in Brookville, about 60 miles southeast of Indianapolis. She subsequently was fired as girls basketball coach and sued the Franklin County schools separately for retaliation. She won a $28,500 judgment in federal court a year ago, and has moved from Indiana.
"As a coach, I feel it has been a long time coming!" Parker said in a statement distributed through Groth. "On a personal level, it cost me the profession I love but I know that one day I will look back on the impact this decision has had for the girls in Indiana and be proud of the sacrifices and persistence it took to make this happen."
Parker said that if she ever returns to Indiana her youngest daughter, now 4, "will have the pleasure of playing on Friday nights."
Parker's case challenged the practice of schools giving boys' games preference for "prime time," or Friday and Saturday nights and the night before Thanksgiving.
Under the consent decree, Franklin County and the schools it plays agree to schedule at least two more girls games during prime time in 2013-14 than it did in 2011-12, at least four more the following year, and at least six more in 2015-16 until reaching scheduling parity in 2016-17.
"We would have liked to have seen the timetable for getting to full equality accelerated," Groth said. Because schools schedule games years in advance and sign contracts, "we had to agree to phase in these steps toward equality."
The Franklin County schools' superintendent, Debbie Howell, issued a statement saying the district "is pleased that a settlement has been reached that will allow the school corp. to continue to move forward in providing opportunities for both our female and our male student-athletes."
Marcia D. Greenberger, co-president of the National Women's Law Center, said the settlement of the case "is a great victory for the Indiana girls affected by their school's unfair scheduling practices."
"It is simply unacceptable that as standard operating procedure a school would consistently prioritize boys' athletics schedules over that of the girls. This case sends a strong reminder to all schools that they must treat girls fairly in all aspects of athletics," Greenberger said.
Commissioner Bobby Cox of the Indiana High School Athletic Association said it encourages its member schools to provide equity in scheduling, but "there's some schools that have an imbalance."
"Friday and Saturday opportunities for girls have increased over the years," Cox said. However, "some schools may feel the Friday and Saturday nights are not the best opportunities for girls."