Federal lawsuit alleges race, gender discrimination against Philly school district

- The School District of Philadelphia is facing a federal class action lawsuit. Some female lacrosse players are claiming they've been discriminated against because of their gender and race.

A 2017 Strawberry Mansion High School graduate is currently the face of this action lawsuit for black girls who play what they call the traditional ‘white’ sports of lacrosse and field hockey. Her name is Nadirah McRae.

When those sports were first introduced at McRae’s school in 2015, she fell in love. Her academic performance even improved as a result of her newfound passion. For the first time in her life, McRae says she saw path to college.

But in her senior year, McRae saw that path cut off. McRae was reportedly unable to claim her Division I scholarship to the University of Hartford because she says the Philadelphia school district keeps girls of color from playing anyone but other mostly black high schools.

“It made me feel that like we weren't good enough to play lacrosse because we were discouraged so many times from not playing,” she says. “And not being noticed for the great potential that we have [not getting] the long-time training that other female lacrosse players got.”

Jazmine Smith, a former coach, says they faced many obstacles.

“Games canceled, buses canceled, playing the same teams over and over again,” she says. “Which I then deemed the ‘Negro League’ based upon only playing girls of color, the three teams that were in the public league division we were participating in.”

Aaron Freiwald, a lawyer in the case, doesn’t mince words in describing the school district’s attitude toward athletes of color.

“The key people are cultured to think that these girls don't have these real opportunities, won't be able to handle these kinds of opportunities and, therefore, don't put the effort into supporting these girls in taking advantage of these opportunities,” he says. “That is, in effect, racial discrimination.”

As one might expect, the school district disagrees, releasing the following statement:

“One of our core values as a school district is increasing opportunity in the classroom and on the playing field for all of our students, regardless of race or gender. We work every day to ensure equity across the School District and that every child is given the opportunity to succeed. Last year we had more than 250 female student athletes participating on 20 of our school teams in field hockey and girl’s lacrosse, and we continue to promote all sports within the Philadelphia Public League.”

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