The ACLU has joined a 12-year-old Ohio girl's fight to play football for her school district, in a case that has prompted requests that the school board change its policies on female athletes.
Seventh-grader Makhaela Jenkins has played youth football around Baltimore, southeast of Columbus, but isn't allowed on the active roster for her school team because the district doesn't allow girls to participate in games and contact drills.
Fox 28 Columbus reports Liberty Union-Thurston District superintendent Paul Mathews said the longstanding policy doesn't violate any gender-related regulations, because the district offers girls other, non-contact athletic options.
"We are not violating Title IX," Mathews said, referring to the federal law that bans gender discrimination in federally funded school programs, including sports. "We have opportunities for girls, but those opportunities do not include contact sports."
He said it's the district's choice to set which school sports are available to girls.
"We think we have plenty of places for everyone to fit in, but it is simply a choice," Mathews said.
The Ohio chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union in a letter to Matthews on Thursday 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.
Makhaela said gender shouldn't be a barrier to participation in school sports.
"Some people have different goals and dreams they want to follow, and if they want to play a sport, (they) should be able to play a sport no matter what gender you are," she told Fox 28.
She and her relatives contend she practiced, lifted weights and earned the right to play. And she still wants to do so.
"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.
The school district's board members have not yet publicly responded to the ACLU's letter.
The Associated Press contributed to this report