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Title IX case closed for Superior

Photo courtesy of Rettler Corporation.

Emily Kram

For the Superior Telegram

The Superior school district is entering the winter sports season with a clean slate after nearly two years spent resolving a Title IX complaint.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Education confirmed the Office for Civil Rights closed its case involving the Superior school district in August 2017.

Janna Stevens, Superior school district administrator, said the OCR worked collaboratively with the district to ensure an equitable outcome.

"Originally, I assumed the OCR would find us 'guilty or innocent,' and if 'guilty,' we would be provided a list of items to fix," Stevens said. "This was not the case at all."

The process to resolve the Title IX complaint included a self-assessment, a resolution agreement and a year-long monitoring and implementation period.

"The positive part of this process was our softball team obtaining a new turf field right on the Superior High School grounds," Stevens said. "The district prides itself on providing the best tools possible for staff and students — the turf softball field is one of those tools."

According to a Feb. 11, 2016 letter sent to the Superior school district by the OCR, the old softball field was found to be "inferior to the field used by the baseball team." The letter further stated that the district was not in compliance with Title IX regulations due to disparities between the baseball and softball fields.

To remedy the situation, the school district entered into a resolution agreement and built a new artificial turf softball field on the SHS campus. Funding became available with the approval of a bonding referendum in April 2016, and the field opened for the 2017 softball season.

Had the referendum failed, the district could have achieved compliance by scheduling equal time for the baseball and softball teams at the existing NBC Spartan Sports Complex baseball field.

"Frankly, this was going to be our 'fall back' in the event the referendum failed," Stevens said.

Accusations of unequal treatment of male and female athletes at SHS originated in 2014 as the school district finalized plans to build the NBC Spartan Sports Complex. A formal Title IX case was not opened until Sept. 2, 2015.

According to case documents, the Title IX complaint alleged female athletes played and practiced at inferior athletic facilities, pointing specifically to discrepancies between the baseball and softball teams.

"I was made aware (in 2014) that some parents of our girls on the softball team were upset that boy's baseball was getting a new field with the construction of the NBC Spartan Sports Complex," Stevens said.

In response, the school district formed a committee to plan upgrades to the softball fields. To head off further concerns, the Superior School Board voted on June 2, 2014, to make the new baseball field a multi-use field, open to the softball and baseball teams as needed.

The new baseball field opened for the 2015 spring season, and by fall a Title IX complaint had been filed.

"Just because one facility or program receives upgrades before another does not mean the district does not care for all programs and/or treat all programs equally," said Ray Kosey, SHS activities director. "We need to make decisions based on resources and district needs and have short- and long-term plans for all district programs and facilities."

Recent upgrades at SHS came in two phases. The first phase, made possible through district and donor funds, included the construction of a new football and soccer field, baseball field, outdoor track and concessions building. The second phase, funded through the 2016 building referendum, included the construction of a new softball field and tennis courts.

"We understand with projects of this size, there are many different opinions and we need to listen to all stakeholders," Kosey said. "I also hope all stakeholders know that facility upgrades are a process that takes time and money.

"I would hope in the future if anyone feels a program is not being treated fairly, we could meet and discuss their concern and agree on future plans."

Kosey said the recent Title IX complaint had a silver lining for Superior, however. He believes results of the OCR investigation were very positive for the school district.

The OCR conducted an extensive on-site investigation in November 2015 and presented its findings in February 2016.

Aside from the softball fields, which were deemed to be in poor condition, all SHS athletic facilities were of at least adequate quality. Facilities of "excellent quality" were available to 54 percent of male athletes and 39 percent of female athletes at the time of the investigation.

"The support of our district and community to upgrade our facilities, especially our athletic facilities, has been amazing the past few years," Kosey said.

None of the coaches or athletes interviewed during the OCR investigation shared concerns about access to locker rooms or the availability of facilities for practices and competitions. Only the softball team expressed concerns about maintenance and preparation of facilities.

Softball players accounted for 6 percent of female athletes when the investigation took place.