By Lonnie Huhman
The Dexter Community School District released an attorney-client privileged communication that had an East Lansing-based law firm giving its opinion on whether or not the district is complying with Title IX.
At its Oct. 22 meeting, the Dexter Board of Education went into a closed session meeting, which was permitted by the Open Meetings Act, for around 30 minutes and then re-opened the meeting to the public to approve releasing the report by a 5 to 0 vote. A vote of the school board was required because of the attorney-client privilege.
School board trustee Barbara Read abstained from voting due to her past involvement with a Title IX complaint against the district over what she saw as disparities between the Girls and Boys Cross Country teams.
It was after Read’s complaint that the district looked to the Thrun Law Firm to review and offer its opinions on the district’s facilities, athletic spending and budgets, and athletic offerings.
School board president Michael Wendorf had an excused absence from the meeting.
DCS Superintendent Chris Timmis said the district had its attorney review, “our current athletic structure and operations as if the Office of Civil Rights were investigating us for Title IX compliance. The intent was to be proactive to see if we were or were not in compliance and what to monitor or change to make sure we are in compliance.”
“It is an attorney-client privileged document. The only way it could be released is for the board to approve to remove privilege,” Timmis said. “The report was requested for our purposes and, until recently, no one had asked to see it.”
Thrun’s report concluded with, “Based on our review, the District appears to be providing similar opportunities and benefits for male and female student athletes.”
According to the U.S. Department of Education, as a federal law, Title IX states that no person’s in the U.S shall, on the basis of sex, 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.
Thrun’s conclusion went on to say, “While we cannot predict what findings OCR-Office for Civil Rights-might make if conducting an investigation, we were unable to find significant disparities in the District’s athletic programs that we believe would rise to the level of a Title IX violation.”
“We recommend that the District consider the recommendations in the letter moving forward,” Thrun said.
The report said, in part, some concerns had arisen over the use of the locker rooms at the football stadium.
“Specifically, the field hockey team would like to use the locker rooms that are used by the football team,” Thrun’s report said. “There is no requirement in Title IX that mandates which space particular teams must use. The District has made it clear that the rationale for allowing the football team to use the football stadium locker rooms is based on the amount of equipment the football team requires compared to the field hockey team.”
The report then states, “As long as the district provides comparable facilities overall for boys’ and girls’ sports, OCR will likely determine that this prong of the analysis has been met. In an investigation, however, OCR will also interview coaches to gain an understanding of their perceptions of the facilities.”
“In our opinion, the District has complied with Title IX with respect to our current facilities,” it further said. “Comparable facilities exist for boys’ and girls’ sports. Locker room space is available for the field hockey team in Creekside and storage space is available at the football stadium.”
Thrun made a number of recommendations including that once district-wide renovations are complete, the district should review facilities and locker room space to ensure girls’ and boys’ sports teams are able to access practice and competition areas and locker rooms on an equal basis.
In looking at the budget side of things, Thrun said the OCR will review athletic budgets as part of a Title IX review.
“OCR will not determine that a school has violated Title IX based only on the amount of money spent on boys’ versus girls’ sports,” the report states. “It is important, however, to ensure that great disparities in the boys’ and girls’ athletic budgets do not exist.”
Thrun said a review of the district’s athletic budgets shows that the district has higher budgets for boys’ sports than girls’ sports over the past three years. The law firm said the budget disparity was greatest (over $65,000 difference) during the 2016 fiscal year. Based on the documents provided, the firm said it appears that gap decreased nearly 50 percent for the 2017 fiscal year.
“Importantly, the remaining balance for boys’ and girls’ sports was very healthy each year,” Thrun’s report said. “There are valid reasons for financial disparities that do not implicate Title IX. For example, if a significant amount of money is spent to purchase new equipment for a team one year, the District does not need to unnecessarily spend money on another team simply for the sake of equity. It is important, however, to monitor trends and make an active attempt to ensure spending on boys’ and girls’ is substantially similar over time.”
This article does not present the entire report, so if district community members want to fully review the report, they can contact DCS at the Copeland Administration at 734-424-4100 or stop by there at 7714 Ann Arbor St.