Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Title IX complaint investigation broadens

Staff Writer | July 20, 2022 1:00 AM

SANDPOINT – The Office Of Civil Rights for the Department of Education is expanding a Title IX sexual discrimination complaint against the Lake Pend Oreille School District in reference to girls' sports.

The original Title IX complaint, filed by Mark Rossmiller, a Sandpoint resident and an ally of the National Women's Law Center, alleged that LPOSD discriminated against its female students by failing to provide them with equal sports opportunities.

Specifically, Rossmiller alleged the district failed to provide and maintain sports equipment, gave preference to scheduling games and practices to men's sports teams, and denied equal access to female athletes for coaching and academic tutors. He also claimed the district fails to provide locker rooms and practice/competitive facilities and finally that the district doesn’t provide adequate publicity for female sports teams.

Furthermore, the complaint stated that coaches and tutors for boys' sports are paid more than those in girls' sports, that boys' sports receive more travel and per diem funding, that boy's teams were given better options for competition and that boys' sports teams receive more funding than the girls from the district booster club. The final allegation claims the Title IX coordinator, former LPOSD superintendent Tom Albertson, held the position “in name only.”

In January, both the district and Rossmiller were notified that the OCR would be investigating the allegations. However, the letter stated that a resolution could be reached prior to the completion of the investigation “in a number of ways.”

In February, correspondence between the district, OCR, and Rossmiller shows that the district attempted to reach a written voluntary agreement. The agreement would require the board to take “remedial actions” determined by the OCR to come to a complete resolution. The actions determined by the OCR would be held to applicable legal standards. The letter also stated if the district did not reach the agreement by the time the investigation was complete, the OCR would move forward with the voluntary resolutions agreement but require the district to meet specific standards.

In a meeting held on Feb. 8, according to correspondence, the district voted to move forward with a written voluntary agreement. However, due to scheduling issues, it never came to fruition.

Instead, the investigation reached completion in July. The findings of the investigation revealed in a letter written to Rossmiller by OCR acting Chief Attorney Tania Lopez, resulted in the OCR dismissing half of the allegations.

The issues of higher wages for coaches and tutors of boys teams, per diem and travel funding, quality of competition, and preference of funding disbursement shown to the boys' sports team by the booster club were all dismissed. In the letter, Lopez said that after a review of the submitted facts and information, the OCR could not reasonably conclude that there were violations in those areas.

“With respect to your assertion that per diem expenses are different, you [Rossmiller] did not provide information indicating that girls’ teams are provided less per diem for comparable travel,” Lopez said.

Other allegations were dismissed because the information submitted did not support the claims. Such was the case with the quality of competition issue. Rossmiller alleged that boys' teams were given more opportunities to compete outside the region, increasing competitive play and post-season preparation, giving the teams a better quality of competition. However, OCR officials said the information provided in support of this did the opposite.

Lopez told Rossmiller the claim lacked merit due to his ability to submit only one proven case of this happening. Which was an instance of the Sandpoint High School football team playing a team outside their region. Lopez also stated that this allegation was dismissed due to being unable to rely on current data and lacking provisional information to compare the quality of competitions between teams.

However, Lopez said the investigation would continue and would broaden to address issues of proper equipment, scheduling, locker rooms, competitive/practice facilities, and equal publicity are further investigated.

In addition, claims of retaliation will be addressed by OCR officials. Rossmiller alleged that he had received retaliatory actions from the district due to LPOSD officials refusing to meet about the matter. Rossmiller said Albertson would not speak to him about potential athletic disparities in the district, and that later the district attorney informed him that he would not be allowed to meet with any district staff members.

While the OCR will open a further investigation into some of these claims, Lopez said the OCR will continue to act as a “neutral fact finder’ and in no way does this mean the OCR has made a determination.