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School district awaits resolution

Superior’s Hannah Thul (27) gets caught in a hotbox in the third inning of the Spartans game with Hermantown at the Superior Middle School Fields in Superior as teammate Madysen Stariha (33) waits at second base. Eight months after a Title IX complaint was made over girls sports, the Superior school district is waiting for a final verdict. Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com

Eight months have passed since the Superior school district received notice of a Title IX complaint, but school officials are still waiting for the final verdict from the Office of Civil Rights.

The complaint, alleging unequal treatment of girls in high school athletics, was filed in October. Superior was not given the particulars of the complaint but agreed to cooperate in the investigation.

District administrator Janna Stevens said that process has not been what she had expected.

"This whole thing has been bizarre," she said.

According to Stevens, the Office of Civil Rights conducted onsite visits and interviewed Superior High School student athletes in November. She expected the organization would issue a report of its findings soon after.

Instead, the Superior school district was asked to complete a self-assessment and entered into a voluntary resolution agreement. That agreement was updated after the approval of a $92.5 million building referendum on April 5, and district is now waiting for the Office of Civil Rights to pronounce its plan acceptable.

"I feel like it’s a bit of a guessing game on our part," Stevens said. "I feel like we’re saying, ‘Is this right?’ And then they come back with either, ‘Yep, that’s what we wanted,’ or ‘No, go back and look at it again.’"

Stevens said she would have preferred a list detailing where the school district is out of compliance and what must be done to remedy the issue.

"I expected a checklist of things to do," Stevens said. "However, I now understand the process the OCR has is different than what I assumed."

Jim Bradshaw, with the U.S. Department of Education press office, said cases are handled differently when a school district enters into a voluntary resolution agreement before an investigation has concluded.

"When that happens, no determination of compliance is made and so no letter of findings is issued," Bradshaw said in an email. "Negotiations would then begin on the language to address the civil rights compliance concerns."

The Superior school district entered into a resolution agreement in February, and the Office of Civil Rights is monitoring the case.

According to the office’s case processing manual, cases are monitored until all elements of the resolution agreement have been implemented. Once all requirements have been met, the school district will receive a written letter and the case will be closed.

The original Title IX complaint filed against Superior cited unequal treatment of female athletes in the area of locker rooms, practice facilities and competitive facilities.

Superior entered into a resolution agreement in February before a finding of compliance or noncompliance was made; however, the civil rights office provided the district with a comprehensive report on all aspects of its athletic facilities.

"Two areas came out as a concern: Boys and girls hockey and softball/baseball," Stevens said.

For the Superior school district, the softball and baseball concerns were not new.

The matter was previously raised by a parent in 2014, when planning was under way for the NBC Spartan Sports Complex. At that time, the parent warned the school district of a potential Title IX violation if it provided the baseball team with a new artificial turf field but left the softball team with its old field.

Hoping to avoid a violation, the school district altered plans for the new baseball field to make it a dual-use surface, available to both the baseball and softball teams if needed.

The field opened for use last year, and the Title IX complaint was filed about four months after the baseball and softball seasons ended.

Superior High School activities director Ray Kosey said the complaint is the first the district has faced since he took over as activities director in 2005.

Navigating the complaint process has been a learning experience, Stevens said, but she expects matters to be resolved thanks to Superior’s successful referendum bid.

Included among the provisions of the referendum was nearly $1 million to upgrade the softball fields at Superior Middle School. The Spartan softball team had used middle school as its home field, but that will change next year with the construction of a new softball field at the high school.

"With some creative changes, we are able to make it fit at SHS," Stevens said. "It will be located where the current tennis courts and two (bus) garages are. New tennis courts will be going in between the football field and baseball field.

"We didn’t think (a softball field) could fit at SHS, but it can and we are thrilled."

The new field will be funded through the referendum. Construction is expected to begin this summer, Stevens said, and the new softball field should be ready to use for the 2017 season.

"We will continue to update the OCR as they monitor our progress and fully expect to receive a ‘case closed’ letter when the facility is complete," she said.

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