BALTIMORE, Ohio – A school district that denied a 12-year-old a spot on the football team because she is a girl reversed its decision because it didn’t want to spend tax money fighting the issue, the school’s superintendent said.
The school announced Friday that Makhaela Jenkins will be allowed on the team after all.
She earlier had been told she couldn’t play because the Liberty Union-Thurston district southeast of Columbus doesn’t allow girls to participate in games and contact drills.
Superintendent Paul Mathews said he still believes the longstanding policy doesn’t violate any gender-related regulations, because the district offered girls other, non-contact athletic options. He had said it was the district’s choice to set which school sports are available to girls.
He also maintained that the policy did not violate the federal law that bans gender discrimination in federally funded school programs, including sports.
But in a statement released Friday, Mathews said that the district didn’t want to spend tax money fighting the American Civil Liberties Union over the policy.
“Our position on this issue has been made clear,” he said in the statement. “However, we are also adamant that local tax dollars will not be wasted. We have no intent of competing with the deep pockets of the ACLU in any litigation situation in order to secure a favorable judgment.”
The Ohio chapter of the ACLU sent a letter to Matthews on Thursday that said the district’s decision is “unacceptable and unlawful.” The organization added that the district cannot say it has a “legitimate basis” for denying female students from participating on the football team.
The ALCU said the district was using outdated and untrue stereotypes about gender to decide who participates in athletics.
Makhaela, a seventh-grader, has played youth football around her hometown and said she earned a spot on the squad by practicing and lifting weights.
“It sets me apart from everybody else, and it lets other people know it’s OK to be different and you don’t have to follow what everybody else does,” she said.
She said gender shouldn’t be a barrier to participation in school sports.