LAYTON — A federal judge has ordered Central Davis Junior High to allow a ninth-grade girl to try out for the school’s wrestling team.

Kathleen Janis, 15, of Layton, won a temporary restraining order Thursday, Feb. 2, from U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby in Salt Lake City. Kelly Janis, the girl’s mother, filed a civil rights lawsuit after the school rejected Kathleen’s attempt to try out. The Davis School District argued that junior high boys and girls can be segregated in contact sports under federal Title IX law, and that it is sufficient that Kathleen could try out for the Layton High School team.

“This is not just about my daughter — it is about all girls who have been denied these opportunities because of gender,” Kelly Janis said in an interview Friday. “In addition, there are boys out there who want to play volleyball. It is a civil rights case.”

Shelby said three other federal district courts have ruled in similar cases that school policies prohibiting female wrestlers from competing on all-male wrestling teams violated their constitutional rights.

“The court concludes, preliminarily, that (Kathleen) would be subject to disadvantageous treatment if she were not allowed to participate on her junior high wrestling team,” Shelby’s ruling said. “While she could have participated at the high school level, and possibly benefited from better facilities and coaching, she would also lose certain advantages that are available to her male peers who can choose to wrestle on the junior high team.”

Those advantages, he said, included being able to attend both school and practice, being part of her school’s team with her schoolmates, and having another year to compete at the junior high level before moving on to compete with potentially stronger and more experienced high school athletes.

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Shelby’s temporary restraining order expires in 14 days. Another hearing is scheduled Feb. 10 on whether the TRO should be converted to a preliminary injunction. An injunction would stay in force while the sides continue to litigate the lawsuit.

Kelly Janis was exultant about Shelby’s ruling but expressed frustration that “it’s 2017 and we’re still fighting for civil rights.”

“Don’t deny children,” she said. “There is enough discrimination in the adult world. Don’t discriminate against a child who wants to try something. Because what that teaches our children is that you’re not good enough to do this because of your gender.”

In its argument against the restraining order, the district said Kathleen “chose not to join the Layton High School wrestling team. Her rejection of the opportunity to wrestle does not allow her to now claim her equal protection rights were violated because she had an equal, if not superior, opportunity to wrestle.”

The district said it historically has banned girls from junior high wrestling teams “due to concerns about violating Title IX’s ‘Equal Access’ requirement. Allowing girls to participate in wrestling would create more team sports for girls than boys at the junior high level.”

District lawyers objected that an injunction “inserts this court into the management and operation of junior high school athletics, and overrides established policies in contravention of the public interest.” The school and district would have to immediately modify their athletic programs, the district said.

But Shelby said the school policy appears to be discriminatory because it places Kathleen “in a substantially different position than her male counterparts.(She is) forced to wrestle at the high school level instead of the junior high level. But her male peers can make this choice freely in consultation with their parents after considering their school schedules, athletic abilities and goals, and personal preferences.”

Shelby said he concluded Kathleen “will suffer immediate and irreparable harm, through the likely denial of her constitutional rights, if she is prohibited from participating on the Central Davis Junior High wrestling team on the same basis and with the same benefits and treatment as boys.”

He also said the district’s fears of harm from the change "are mainly logistical and attitudinal.”

The judge said he sympathizes with issues the district raised, including the effects of “such a policy shift with other athletes and their parents. But on balance those harms do not outweigh the constitutional injury shown here.”

Christopher Williams, school district spokesman, had no comment on the ruling.

Kelly Janis said the district has been showing “a limited mindset.”

“They are discouraging our children,” she said. “Our children should not be facing animosity and discrimination while they’re still learning in school. All of our children deserve every opportunity.”

Stewart Gollan, the Janises’ attorney, earlier said the civil rights issue trumps the district’s concern that “mixed-sex wrestling would create an increased likelihood of inappropriate sexual contact or concern about the appropriateness of close physical contact between boys and girls on the part of parents or other members of the wrestling team.”

Tryouts are scheduled Monday, Kelly Janis said. Williams said the team’s practices are closed to the public.

You can reach reporter Mark Shenefelt at mshenefelt@standard.net or 801 625-4224. Follow him on Twitter at @mshenefelt and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SEmarkshenefelt.

 

 

 

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