Salem-Keizer on review of high school athletic programs following Title IX complaint

The Salem-Keizer School District is reviewing its high school athletic programs after a federal civil rights investigation found the girls’ softball team had inferior facilities, equipment and access to coaching at Sprague High School.

Superintendent Christy Perry signed a voluntary resolution on November 3 agreeing to evaluate the resources made available to all girls and boys sports teams in Sprague and report any injustices along with a corrective plan to the Office of Civil Rights of the report to the US Department of Education.

The agency launched its investigation in July after the federal Department of Education received a complaint alleging that the district violated Title IX, the part of the federal Education Act that prohibits sex discrimination in institutions that receive federal funding.

The letter to the county announcing the investigation did not specify who filed the complaint.

“OCR’s investigation to date has determined that the district may not provide the girls’ softball teams with locker rooms, practice and competition facilities comparable to those offered to the boys’ baseball teams at the school. In particular, OCR received information reflecting that boys’ baseball at the school has superior playing fields, dugouts, bullpens, fences, landscaping, bleachers, batting cages and camps compared to what is provided for girls’ softball.” in a resolution letter dated November 4 from the office to Perry.

The letter noted that the district acknowledged many of these issues and was working to update facilities and fix the issues.

Lara Tiffin, the district’s athletics and activities coordinator, said in a Monday interview that there had been inequalities between girls’ softball and boys’ baseball at Sprague, but many of the issues would be addressed before the complaint was filed.

“There have been many improvements over the past year, which are addressed in the complaint,” she said. “That was great to see just because it’s the right thing to do.”

Tiffin said some of the issues stemmed from a late hiring of the coach early in the 2021-22 school year. Sprague hired a math teacher who would also coach softball after the school’s master plan for the year was already in place.

In general, Tiffin said softball and baseball coaches who also teach have their prep times at the end of the day so they have time to prepare the field and practice equipment before school ends.

However, because the hiring occurred after the school’s schedule was created, the teacher was instead scheduled to teach during these periods, affecting the availability of softball coaches.

“As soon as they were made aware of the concerns, they offered back-up coverage on game days so she could prepare the field,” Tiffin said.

This year the coach has free time at the end of the day to prepare the field.

Construction of a school extension and improvement was completed in Sprague this autumn with improvements to the sports facilities. Tiffin said part of that work included upgrades to the athletic facilities, including better softball shelters, more spectator capacity, and new locker rooms for female athletes.

The resolution requires district officials to review sports programs in Sprague, focusing on the facilities, equipment, resources and coaching available to boys’ and girls’ teams. They must identify areas of injustice and report to the Office of Civil Rights within 120 days.

The district also has 90 days to submit a remediation plan and is required to report on progress every six months until issues are resolved.

Though the resolution focuses on Sprague programs, Tiffin said she intends to review all high school athletic programs through a Title IX lens to identify other areas of injustice.

Her position is new this school year and focuses on improving athletic and other after-school programs in secondary schools. Tiffin previously served as the longtime principal of South Salem High School.

“We intend to have most components of the corrective action plan covered before it is even developed,” Tiffin said.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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