A federal civil rights agency will monitor if the Evergreen school district is stepping up to the plate for boys and girls in equal measure.
The district last week entered into an agreement with the federal Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights in response to a Title IX complaint filed against the district last July, which alleged that Evergreen offers inferior facilities, equipment, supplies and publicity to girls softball teams than it does for boys baseball.
The voluntary resolution agreement is not an admission of any violation of federal law by the district.
The federal complaint revisited several issues that already were the subject of a state case nearly seven years ago. In July 2005, a state judge used harsh words to describe inequalities between Evergreen’s baseball and softball programs, and gave the district one year to fix them.
That previous complaint was filed by Vancouver parent Mark Rossmiller, but it is unclear who started the new federal case. The name of the complainant was missing from copies obtained by The Columbian of the original complaint and this week’s agreement. A voicemail left at the number listed for Rossmiller on a voter’s pamphlet was not returned.
Title IX is a federal law that prohibits anyone to be “excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance,” based on gender. School districts receive federal money and therefore must comply with Title IX.
The July 2011 complaint includes very specific allegations regarding softball facilities at Evergreen high schools. The list of shortcomings on Union and Heritage high schools’ fields is fairly short and includes publicity banners, infield tarps and a few other accommodations allegedly missing on softball fields -- but provided on baseball fields -- at those schools.
At Evergreen and Mountain View high schools, however, some essential disparities exist, according to the complaint. Damage on the fields has not been repaired, drainage and irrigation systems are faulty, fields aren’t fully fenced and there are no batting and pitching machines and cages, the complaint alleges.
Also at those two schools, varsity softball fields are far away from the school building and have no bathrooms or drinking water available,
according to the complaint.
Overall, “by providing inferior accommodations for girls as compared to boys, the district sends a message to young women that they are less important,” the complaint reads.
Almost identical issues were addressed by Janice Shave, an administrative law judge, in 2005, when she found that Evergreen Public Schools “failed to provide equal opportunity to girls in the high school interscholastic athletic program of softball.”
The judge told the district it had one year to “improve the areas of identified disparate treatment, including but not limited to field condition, dugouts, base paths, potable water … and operational and actually operated scoreboards.”
And the district did just that, said Jerry Piland, director of human services. The district made improvements on everything the judge had listed seven years ago, with the exception of scoreboards, he said. Neither baseball nor softball fields have electronic scoreboards, Piland said.
State school officials inspected district facilities after the improvements and found them to be in compliance with Title IX, Piland said. Those facilities have been maintained since and district officials believe they still are in compliance with the federal law, he said.
The Office of Civil Rights will make sure they are. The voluntary resolution agreement entered into last week includes a schedule of assessments and, if necessary, improvements.
The district has until June 30 to examine all equipment and supplies used by the baseball and softball teams to see whether they differ greatly in quality, age and availability.
By the same date, it also must assess whether boys’ and girls’ teams are promoted equally in publications.
By Aug. 31, the district must determine whether there are significant disparities between the locker rooms, practice facilities and fields of baseball and softball teams at the high schools.
If the district finds that there are differences between boys’ and girls’ programs in any of the three areas examined, it must submit a draft action plan to the federal office by Oct. 31. The office will review the plan and provide feedback, and the district must come up with a final plan for improvements by the end of the year.
Any identified disparities must be corrected by the end of March 2013, according to the agreement.
Entering into the voluntary agreement is the best way to resolve the complaint, Piland, the district official, said. He acknowledged that there were facilities issues seven years ago, but said those had been taken care of. This agreement allows the district to demonstrate that it took the proper steps years ago without incurring further costs now, he said.