AB 949: Competitive Cheerleading Programs and Title IX

    What is AB 949?

    • AB 949, also known as the California High Schools Expanding Equality Respect and Safety (C.H.E.E.R.S.) Act, was introduced by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzales, passed, and signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown in 2015.
    • The law aims to make competition cheerleading an interscholastic high school sport in California by July 1, 2017, with oversight and input from the California Interscholastic Federation (“CIF”) and the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

    Why might AB 949 undermine equity for girls?

    • AB 949 may undermine Title IX compliance and expose California schools to liability.
    • Simply labeling cheerleading “competitive” is not enough to make it a sport under Title IX (to learn more basics on Title IX athletic equity see fact sheet here).
    • AB 949 could encourage schools to improperly count cheerleaders as athletes for Title IX purposes, even if cheerleaders are not afforded the same full-fledged treatment, benefits, and competitive opportunities as participants in other sports.
    • If schools improperly count cheerleading as a sport, schools may in turn provide fewer traditional athletic participation opportunities for girls. Currently, no version of cheerleading is an NCAA-recognized sport and very few cheer-related scholarship dollars are available.

    Why are sports important for health, academics, and employment?

    • Competitive athletic participation has a number of important benefits, including higher graduation rates, improved mental and physical health, and better employment opportunities. For example, the annual wages of women who played competitive high school sports are, on average, 7 percent higher than the wages of non-athletes.

    What does Title IX require regarding athletic equity?

    • Title IX requires all federally funded schools to provide equal athletic participation opportunities, treatment, and benefits for male and female students. Thus, the number of slots offered on competitive school sports teams must be proportionate to the number of male and female students at the school, and program components such as coaching and uniforms have to be equal in an overall athletic program analysis.
    • An athletic participation opportunity will only count for Title IX purposes if it is genuinethe opportunity must give participants the chance to play an actual sport and receive the same benefits and experience received on another sports team.
    • In the past, the Office for Civil Rights has declined to recognize cheerleading as a sport under Title IX, stating that decisions about particular cheerleading teams will be made on a case-by-case basis.

    How do I determine if my school’s cheer program counts as a sport under Title IX?

    • The Office for Civil Rights considers several factors (see 2008 guidance for more detail): (note: several federal court decisions re: college cheer, here and here, provide further further guidance):
      • Whether the activity is structured and administered in a manner consistent with other interscholastic sports.
      • Whether the team prepares for and engages in competition in a manner consistent with other interscholastic sports.
    • To determine whether your school’s cheerleading program counts as a sport, ask:
      • Are the following benefits provided for the cheerleading program, consistent with other sports:
        • Budget, support services, and coaching staff
        • Recruitment
        • Quality and quantity of competition opportunities against other interscholastic teams during the regular season, with a competitive schedule reflecting the abilities of the team
        • Opportunities to engage in pre- and post-season competition (i.e., state or conference championships)
        • Post-season competition (dependent on/related to season results)
        • Athletes’ eligibility to receive awards
        • The length, number, and quality of practice opportunities
      • Does a governing athletics organization determine the defined season, number of competitions, and length of play?
      • Does the program have a recognized set of rules of play and objective, standardized criteria by which competition is judged?
      • Is the primary purpose to provide opportunities for athletic competition rather than support/promote other athletic activities?
      • Are resources for the activity (practice and competition schedules, coaching staff) based on the competitive needs of the team?
      • Is the selection of teams/participants based on factors related to athletic ability?

    Where can I get more information?

    • Please contact Fair Play for Girls in Sports [877-593-0074 (toll free) & fairplay [at] las-elc.org] with questions regarding AB 949, Title IX , and/or gender equity issues in athletics.

    Full Text of the Law

    AB 949, Gonzalez. Physical education: competition cheer. Existing law describes the California Interscholastic Federation, provides the intent of the Legislature regarding its policies, and requires it to report to the Legislature and the Governor on its evaluation and accountability activities on or before January 1, 2016. Existing federal law, Title IX of the federal Education Amendments of 1972, prohibits sex discrimination in an educational institution’s programs and activities. This bill would require the California Interscholastic Federation, in consultation with the State Department of Education, to, no later than July 1, 2017, develop guidelines, procedures, and safety standards for the purpose of classifying competition cheer as an interscholastic sport, as specified. The bill would require the California Interscholastic Federation to seek a United States Department of Education Office for Civil Rights Title IX compliance designation for competition cheer, and would specify that competition cheer shall not be counted toward a school’s Title IX compliance unless the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights deems competition cheer compliant with its definition of a sport. Section 33353.7 is added to the Education Code, to read: (a) No later than July 1, 2017, the California Interscholastic Federation, in consultation with the department, shall develop guidelines, procedures, and safety standards for the purpose of classifying competition cheer as an interscholastic sport that is consistent with the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights’ definition of a sport. (b) For purposes of this section, “competition cheer” means a sport in which teams participate in direct, head-to-head competition with one another using an objective scoring system. (c) The California Interscholastic Federation shall seek a United States Department of Education Office of Civil Rights Title IX compliance designation for competition cheer. Competition cheer shall not be counted towards a school’s Title IX compliance unless the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights deems competition cheer compliant with its definition of a sport. Disclaimer: Please consult an attorney on any specific case, as this fact sheet does not constitute legal advice.

Disclaimer

This Fact Sheet is intended to provide accurate, general information regarding legal rights relating to employment in California. Yet because laws and legal procedures are subject to frequent change and differing interpretations, Legal Aid at Work cannot ensure the information in this Fact Sheet is current nor be responsible for any use to which it is put. Do not rely on this information without consulting an attorney or the appropriate agency about your rights in your particular situation.