What Is the Three Prong Test for Title IX?

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is a federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity. Under Title IX, a “three-prong” test is used to determine whether a school offers comparable athletics programs for male and female students. 

In other words, there are three factors that courts will consider when evaluating whether a school has effectively accommodated the athletic interests of students of both genders. If any of the three prongs are satisfied, the school has complied with this component of Title IX.

What are the three prongs?

When analyzing if a school’s athletics program is equal between the sexes, you must review three factors to determine whether the interests of female students have been adequately accommodated by the athletic opportunities are provided. Each of these factors is known as a “prong” in the three-prong test, and only one of the prongs must be satisfied to determine that a school has appropriately accommodated its students. 

Prong #1 — Proportionality

The first prong in the three-prong test reviews whether the number of male and female students enrolled in the school’s athletics programs is proportional to the number of male and female students in the entire student body. So, for example, if a school’s student body is about half male and half female, but only 25% of student-athletes are female, this prong would not be satisfied. 

Prong #2 — Expansion

When a school has a disproportionate number of male and female students in its sports programs, it can satisfy the second prong of the three-test instead of the first. To do so, the school must prove that it is in the process of expanding its female athletics programs to align with female students’ interests. This means that even if a school fails the first prong, it can still comply with Title IX by working towards proportional representation in its athletics program.

Prong #3 — Accommodating Interests

The third prong of the test allows schools with disproportionate athletics programs that are not being expanded to show they are complying with Title IX by proving that the existing program is accommodating student interests in athletics. In other words, if a school can show that female students are not interested in participating in an expanded athletic program, it can be found in compliance with Title IX. 

What are the three components in Title IX?

The three-prong test is used to determine whether a school is effectively accommodating student interests in athletics, which is the first of three components of a school athletics program under Title IX. Unlike the three-prong test, where schools only need to satisfy one prong in order to comply, a school must comply with each of the three components of Title IX.

In addition to accommodating student interests, schools must provide proportional financial assistance to male and female teams. Schools must also offer equivalent benefits and opportunities to teams for both genders. This includes equal access to facilities; equivalent quality and quantity of uniforms, coaching, schedules, equipment, and officials; and a similar quantity of available sports and levels of competition.

What are Title IX violations?

A Title 9 violation occurs when a school that receives federal funds fails to comply with its obligation to operate its educational programs and activities without discrimination based on sex. In other words, if a school discriminates on the basis of sex, it has violated Title 9.

In addition to its duty to avoid discrimination in student athletics programs, Title IX also prohibits schools from discriminating based on gender in the following areas:

  • Recruitment and admissions
  • Financial aid
  • Discipline
  • Counseling programs
  • Treatment of students who are pregnant or raising children 

Schools must also avoid sex-based harassment, which includes sexual assault and other types of sexual violence, as well as threatening or discriminating against a student to interfere with their Title IX rights or in retaliation for reporting or complaining about a Title IX violation. 

What kind of lawyer do I need to sue a school?

When suing a school for discrimination or any other cause of action, it’s essential to hire a lawyer that has experience handling education law cases. Pursuing a legal claim against a school can be complex, particularly because, under the legal doctrine of “sovereign immunity,” public schools cannot be sued unless state law allows them to be. In many cases, you may also be required to exhaust the available administrative remedies before suing a school, so you need to make sure your lawyer is knowledgeable about the education laws in your state. 

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