Wis. high school boy fights for right to com­pete with his dance team

Com­plaint says Min­nesota pol­icy per­pet­u­ates gen­der-based dis­crim­i­na­tion, vi­o­lates Ti­tle IX.

Star Tribune - - MINNESOTA - By MARY LYNN SMITH mary­lynn.smith@star­tri­bune.com

Kaiden John­son wanted to dance and com­pete with his high school dance team. But the Min­nesota State High School League said no be­cause he’s a boy and dance teams are for girls.

On Tues­day, lawyers with the Pa­cific Le­gal Foun­da­tion filed a com­plaint with the Of­fice for Civil Rights in the U.S. Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion, ar­gu­ing that Min­nesota’s pol­icy is dis­crim­i­na­tory and vi­o­lates Ti­tle IX, bar­ring pub­lic schools from ex­clud­ing stu­dents from sports and other ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties based on their gen­der.

“The Min­nesota league can­not con­tinue to dis­crim­i­nate by ban­ning boys from com­pet­i­tive danc­ing,” said Joshua Thomp­son, a Pa­cific Le­gal Foun­da­tion at­tor­ney on the case. “Ti­tle IX’s re­quire­ment for equal op­por­tu­nity for all stu­dents, re­gard­less of sex, is crys­tal clear. Schools can­not tell ei­ther boys or girls, ‘you’re the wrong sex, there­fore, no danc­ing for you.’ ”

Ac­cord­ing to a Min­nesota state statute, “it is not un­fair dis­crim­i­na­tory prac­tice to re­strict mem­ber­ship on an ath­letic team to par­tic­i­pants of one sex whose over­all ath­letic op­por­tu­ni­ties have pre­vi­ously

been lim­ited.”

Thomp­son ar­gues dance isn’t a sport that can be used to achieve gen­der eq­uity.

“[Min­nesota of­fi­cials] may sim­ply have a be­lief that boys aren’t meant to be danc­ing and that boys should be com­pet­ing in wrestling and foot­ball and dance is for the girls,” Thomp­son said. “These out­dated stereo­types are pre­cisely what our civil rights laws and our Con­sti­tu­tion are de­signed to get rid of.”

Kevin Beck, an at­tor­ney rep­re­sent­ing the State High School League, said the league can’t com­ment on pend­ing le­gal mat­ters or the com­plaint.

The dance con­tro­versy be­gan last De­cem­ber when John­son, a 15-year-old sopho­more Su­pe­rior High School sopho­more Kaiden John­son ar­gues his rights are be­ing vi­o­lated.

at Su­pe­rior High School in Wis­con­sin, planned to com­pete along­side the girls on his dance team at a Lake Su­pe­rior Con­fer­ence meet. For at least five years, the dance team has com­peted against Min­nesota schools in the Lake Su­pe­rior Con­fer­ence along with some of the school’s other sports, in­clud­ing hockey, bas­ket­ball, baseball and track, ac­cord­ing to Ray Kosey, the high school ac­tiv­i­ties di­rec­tor.

But John­son was told he couldn’t com­pete with his team be­cause Min­nesota doesn’t al­low boys on high school dance teams. School of­fi­cials later were told that the team shouldn’t have been al­lowed to com­pete in the con­fer­ence be­cause, like lacrosse, dance isn’t a sanc­tioned sport in the Wis­con­sin In­ter­scholas­tic Ath­letic As­so­ci­a­tion.

Be­cause of that, the dance team can’t com­pete in the Min­nesota State High School League con­fer­ence. And that means the case is moot and lacks stand­ing, ac­cord­ing to a let­ter the league’s at­tor­ney sent in Oc­to­ber to the Pa­cific Le­gal Foun­da­tion. “Your threat­ened law­suit is with­out merit,” the let­ter said.

But Thomp­son ar­gues the case goes be­yond John­son. It’s about pre­vent­ing the league from dis­crim­i­nat­ing against other Min­nesota boys, he said.

In Su­pe­rior, Kosey said he’s sur­prised a Min­nesota boy hasn’t chal­lenged the rule, which likely was put in place years ago to pro­tect ath­letic

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