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Title IX complaint investigation continues

by CAROLINE LOBSINGER
Staff Writer | January 12, 2022 1:00 AM

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SANDPOINT — A Title IX complaint against the Lake Pend Oreille School District will go forward as the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights continues to investigate.

OCR officials notified Sandpoint resident Mark Rossmiller that the office had completed an evaluation of his complaint filed in July 2021. In the complaint, Rossmiller alleges Sandpoint High School’s athletic program fails to provide equal athletic opportunities to female students by not effectively accommodating their interests and abilities.

In the letter to Rossmiller, dated Jan. 7, OCR equal opportunity special Emily J. Hazen said opening the allegation for investigation does not imply the office has made a determination with regard to its merit.

"During the investigation, OCR is a neutral fact finder, collecting and analyzing relevant evidence from the complainant, the recipient, and other sources, as appropriate," Hazen wrote.

The investigation will be conducted in accordance with appropriate guidelines and regulations.

"OCR is committed to resolving complaints as promptly as possible," Hazen said. OCR will be contacting the District to discuss the allegation."

LPOSD Superintendent Tom Albertson said the district received a letter from OCR officials requesting information on interscholastic competition teams at Sandpoint High School.

"LPOSD will work with the OCR to review our programs to ensure we are in compliance with the federal Title IX requirements," he told the Daily Bee.

In the letter, Hazen said the allegation may be resolved in a variety of ways, including a voluntary agreement by the district to take remedial actions determined by OCR that fully resolve the allegation consistent with legal standards.

If a resolution is not reached before the investigation is completed, Hazen said OCR will determine whether the district is in compliance with the applicable legal standards. If non-compliance is found, OCR will propose that LPOSD agree to take specific steps to comply with applicable regulations.

The latest complaint stems from a 2002 investigation regarding Title IX complaints alleging the district failed to provide equal opportunity and accommodations in sports for girls in Sandpoint High School and Sandpoint Middle School.

Agreements to resolve those failures were signed by then-Superintendent Mark Berryhill with the understanding they would be completed by 2003.

However, Rossmiller's complaint alleged those requirements were not met in that timeframe and OCR continued monitoring the district until 2006 when the case was closed as a result of “interest surveys” showing female students were not interested in sports, and the district was thus not required to expand participation.

However, the complaint alleges, an April 2010 letter by the OCR provided guidance for a “three part test” which measures whether the student athletics representation is proportional to the general student body; whether a school with a history of underrepresented female sports is working to expand their female athletics programs; and whether, if the school’s sports are not proportional and not expanding, whether the school meets the student interest.

That letter also provided interpretation of what constitutes a proper interest survey, and revoked the method of interpretation used in the 2006 survey.

In his July complaint, Rossmiller said underrepresentation continues to be a problems with continuing inequities between girls and boys sports. Resolutions to address inequities were either not resolved, re-emerged and exist today, or were not fully investigated and monitored to proper resolution, he said in his complaint.

Some of these resolutions included: adjustments to equipment and supplies; scheduling of games and practice times; travel and per diem; access to coaching and compensation; facilities; medical; training facilities and services; housing and dining and publicity.

Notably, the complaint alleges that supplemental contracts for coaching boys sports “far exceed” overall compensation for girls sports, and that the LPOSD policy to “hire from within” diminishes quality of coaching, and by extension sports education and scholarship opportunities for girls.

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