Legal matters: Title IX issues
Date: Tue, 16 Sep 1997 01:53:35 -0500
From: Magree.1(a)osu.edu (Paul Magree)
Subject: Gender equity compilation
You may have seen my plea for assistance in resolving a "gender equity"
dispute with my administration at a middle school here in central Ohio.
Little did I expect such an outpouring, over thirty in all. I have edited
out the more vitriolic responses (only one of which was negative and urged
the boys "to get used to it, for a change") and have included most of the
nuances of encouragement I received. I hope young teachers are urged to use
this forum as a source of encouragement and ammunition in their occasional
forays. This is the second occasion when I have been ably assisted by my
peers to plead my case. It provides an impressive portfolio. I know for a
fact I have to get my hands on this Title IX document and see exactly what
is said. There appears to be a consensus that an actual exemption is all
but spoken within the law, reinforcing the logical interpretation that my
administration has it all wrong.
I've seen a couple of postings from different people about this
horrific interpretation of title IX. A piece of documentation that we
received in our faculty orientation (and have for several years)
specifically speaks to this situation. It states that vocal music classes
may be selected based on vocal range and ability. I'm not sure, as I don't
have this documentation with me at the moment, where this phraseology
originates. My guess is that it is the school board's interpretation of
Basically it boils down to "playing the game," and selecting your
choirs based on range and ability instead of sex. You end up with the same
thing, you've just put a different label on your criterion for selecting who
goes into what choir.
As a choral singer, voice student and future music teacher, your dilemma
interests me, however, the logistics of it, as you described above, are
a little vague. For example, what section are the boys being moved from
and to where? Have they reached puberty? Are they having to sing parts
down an octave? (That might help you by showing that singing a part an
octave lower goes against the wishes of the composer.) Is there more
practicality in what you're asking for, such as balance as you've said,
and an overall better-sounding choir or is it more of a morale issue for
the kids? The way I see it, you've got to do a lot of work to convince
the school board that a more traditionally mixed chorus will sound
better. You may have to bring some board members into your setting and
show the difference. But consider also that musical aesthetics is just
subjective enough that your board members will stubbornly insist that
the "gender equity" choir is better sounding because that's their bias.
If you try to make it a confidence issue you won't have a leg to stand
on because morale isn't really the issue; going for a more gender-equal
social sphere in any setting is sure to damage the morale of the
dominant gender (in this case, men). I don't mean dominant in numbers,
I mean in society in general.
The tack that was taken 15 years ago when this issue was finally resolved was
that the important issue is equal opportunity. Do the boys and girls have an
equal chance to get a similar education. It does not matter if there exists
an all girls choir as long as the boys of the same grouping (age or grade or
whatever) have a place they can also take choir. That choir may be mixed or
an all boys choir.
In my school, and in *many* schools (with support from current research), I
have separated the boys and the girls into their respective choirs for the
7th and 8th grades. I take great care in never publicly labeling them as a
"boys choir" or "girls choir" but it is very obvious what is what.
I know there is nothing "official" here, but it is the philosophy that has
been in operation in the different places I have taught. You may want to
check with your state MENC office to see if they have any literature to help.
I have two words of advice:
Where there is a sharp under representation of one sex, you have the
right to take steps that would promote the self-confidence of the
minority group. This is what you did, with the hope, no doubt, that more
boys would eventually feel encouraged to take up singing. When the
representation equalizes, you won't have to worry about their lack of
And reassure the complainers that you will do everything in your power
to ensure the girls are provided the leadership opportunities they often
miss out on in the music world.
... it's a misinterpretation. We had large numbers of girls as
compared to boys when I taught at the middle school - and we took the
"overflow" and started another group. This Chorale was open only to sopranos
and altos, whereas the Chorus had SAB singers. We put all guys into Chorus
because as you know, no one can predict when a young man's voice will start
to change, how long it will take, etc. The boys really appreciated having
mutual support of other young men going through or having gone through the
process, and they didn't feel isolated.
A careful reading of Title IX will show any official, no matter how
dense (!), that vocal type is SPECIFICALLY exempted from all Title IX
restrictions! All of the brouhaha 20 years ago about having to
integrate all-male choruses was a bunch of baloney. The law makes a
distinction for voice types. Amazing, isn't it! It's not a question,
tell your officials, of gender, it's a question of voice type. You
don't have a girls' group, you have a group of sopranos and altos, no
matter what the gender. This is not sophistry, it's honest artistry!
I think you could make a convincing argument that vocal music is an
exception to the gender equity issue. How many male sopranos or female
basses do you know? You could rehearse people by sections (basses, tenors,
etc.) Do you think they would still expect a certain ratio of male to
female then? Good luck! This is an absurd issue that you have to deal
PS--I've always said that I was lucky that my field was voice. I never had
that glass ceiling. There were no men competing with me for my roles!
I'm sure I don't have all of the answers, but here are some avenues
1: Our middle school began an experimental math section for girls
only this year, based on new evidence that girls do indeed succeed better
in math and science classes when the boys are removed. Would a similar
argument for music work?
2: Our middle school bands do not see a random selection of
instruments divided equally among all sections.....they have the winds
grouped together, the brass, and the percussion, too. They then have one
day of full band each week. The very fact of the physiological differences
between boys and girls voices (especially during the onset of voice-change)
makes it mandatory that the male 'instruments' and female 'instruments' be
grouped apart for day-to-day work, and combined for the 'full band'
experience from time to time.
3: If gender equity is so important, why do they teach the
sensitive areas of Sex Ed. classes separately to girls and boys? Is it
because each need specific and different information to help them
understand their developing bodies? Voices are a part of bodies and
develop in gender-DIFFERENT ways and at different ages. Another reason to
allow the separation.
Living in California, one state that does everything to the extreme, I
can confidently say your powers that be are incorrect in their
interpretation of Title IX. If you were excluding girls in favor of
boys, there would be a case. Since this is not the situation, there is
no legal ground to stand on. I assume that each section is equal in
regards to opportunity for the student to participate and learn. The
only argument I can see is that some girls may simply not like to be in
an all girls section. I wasn't aware that preference however was
covered under Title IX. One other option, which I strongly encourage
all my student teachers and former students now teaching middle school,
is to create an all boy section. I found as a former middle school
teacher this works much better, for physiological and sociological
reasons. However....reality says that if whoever is deciding where your
students will go will not listen to common sense and reason, your
options will be going along or going over their heads. Neither one is
Consider couching your justifications in developmentally appropriate
education rather than gender. Unless the class descriptions indicate a
mixed choir you can justify the need for this development by having all of
the "men" in one choir. In that setting you can attend to the specific
needs of the male voice more effectively.
I am sorry I don't remember where this discussion was recently cited.
There is justification for working with males in one section and females in
another just as there is justification for delineation of development in
math, English, and social studies sections. None of these classes require
I know that you are speaking of a mixed choir and the above points are a
stretch. One of your curricular requirements might be the development of
"choral" tone or fusion. Balance is crucial to this development. Try
positions that justify the curriculum. They have equal importance with the
Title IX positions.
You can advance two arguments, one musical and the other biological.
Musical: There is music written specifically for girls voices and music
written specifically for boys voices, and they will learn more if they can
concentrate on that music. (But you'd have to actually have music that
supports this argument, and you might not.)
Biological: Middle school boys are going through a voice change that can
be difficult for some, impossible for others, and personally embarrassing
for many. They can be helped through that change more easily in
gender-separate music classes. Draw the parallel with separate gym classes
and separate health classes, if your school still has them separate.
Personally, I would mix them, and be very honest and open in talking about
boys' voice change and the similar "fuzz" period that girls go through, so
they can be mutually supportive.
You are absolutely right. There are three exceptions to Title IX and
choir is one of them. It is perfectly acceptable to have an all male,
and/or all female choir. I read it in NEA Today and usually keep the
article handy for just such situations. However, at the moment I can't
locate it to quote you the issue. Nevertheless, I know it is accurate.
I agree that you need your guys together. My preference is an all male
choir at my middle school. Both the boys and the girls do better that
way. Hang in there! Barbara Lee
I would first advise your administration or powers that be to get off their
butts and look at what is happening in other successful programs around the
country. If I were you, I would walk in with a list of 50 to 100 schools
that have gender specific choirs and explain that this is the norm for middle
school, high school, university and professional levels.
Secondly, I would stress LITERATURE. The amount of music written for gender
specific choirs is overwhelming, and MUST be performed at all of the above
levels. These partsongs, etc. are part of our musical heritage and MUST not
be discarded simply because some district official has a stick up his or
Lastly, I would gently say to your administrators WAKE UP AND SMELL THE
COFFEE! If these dear people want to supply you with an equal number of
qualified boys, so be it! If you have an all girls choir, THEY can give you
the boys to have an all boys choir. The sad truth is that there are MORE
GIRLS THAN BOYS IN CHOIR.......EVERYWHERE!!!!! They need to understand the
whole concept of BALANCE in the choir! I would say statistically that 80% of
ALL school choral programs in the US have an all girls choir, but no all boys
Couldn't you avoid the argument altogether by giving your girls the
*opportunity* to sign up for an all girl course?
Another approach would be to audition students into the mixed chorus which
has a limited number of slots in all sections. Girls who don't make it into
the mixed group have the option to sing in the all girls group.
Your administration would have no reason to object to either of the above,
and if they did they wouldn't have a leg to stand on. This is how it is done
in hundreds of choruses.
With gratitude to all for your concern,
Jones Middle School
Upper Arlington, Ohio