Texas district cleared in Title IX case

The U.S. Department of Education has found insufficient evidence to support the claims of a pregnant high school student who said officials at a Texas school district violated her civil rights by removing her from her volleyball team last fall.

In a complaint filed last October with the department's Office of Civil Rights, volleyball setter and senior Mackenzie McCollum alleged that her coach and other administrators at Arlington Heights High School in Fort Worth treated her differently than other students because she was pregnant.

Such action would have been considered a violation of Title IX, the federal civil rights law that prohibits schools from discriminating on the basis of gender, as well as pregnancy status.

McCollum's dispute with the school district was the topic of an ESPN "Outside the Lines" segment that aired Nov. 29, 2009. McCollum said she was removed from the team, required to get a doctor's note to return and then suffered limited playing time until the end of the season. School district officials denied that they treated her differently from any other student athlete with a medical condition.

"I am truly grateful that this case has been brought to a conclusion and that the findings showed what we knew all along," Fort Worth school district superintendent Melody Johnson said in a statement made public Tuesday in response to the U.S. Department of Education's April 13 ruling.

According to the agency's Office of Civil Rights, there was not enough evidence to prove that the school district treated Mackenzie different from other students in requiring her to get a doctor's note to return to the team or by limiting her playing time. It also could not validate her claims that the district retaliated against her for complaining about her treatment.

Neither McCollum, who finished school in December, nor her mother Barbara Horton, were available for comment Wednesday because McCollum was in labor at a local hospital. McCollum had been represented by Lara Kaufmann, senior counsel with the National Women's Law Center in Washington, D.C.

"While we are disappointed in the Office for Civil Rights' determination, it does not mean that the OCR thinks the school district handled the situation properly," Kaufmann said in a written statement. "We hope that the awareness raised in this case will improve the district's treatment of pregnant and parenting teens. Schools must ensure that pregnant and parenting teens have equal opportunities to participate fully in all school activities to help them succeed."

McCollum could appeal the agency's ruling, but it's unknown whether she plans to do so. A check of court records shows that no lawsuit has been filed against the school district regarding McCollum's civil rights allegations.

Paula Lavigne is a reporter in ESPN's Enterprise Unit.