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Canyon High field draws complaint

Civil rights violation claim brought against school for difference in baseball, softball conditions

Posted: August 5, 2014 10:38 p.m.
Updated: August 5, 2014 10:38 p.m.

(Left) A sprinkler is viewed Tuesday afternoon in the outfield of the Canyon High baseball field, which is kept behind lock and key and not open to the public. The grass appears to be evenly watered throughout the field. (Right) What appear to be gopher holes can be seen in the grass just outside the infield dirt of the Canyon softball field....

Editor's note: The following version corrects the location of the softball field.

Federal Education Department officials are investigating a civil rights complaint alleging gender-based discrimination at Canyon High School athletic facilities, a source familiar with the situation said Tuesday.

The allegations detailed in the complaint, which was obtained by The Signal, fall under Title IX legislation, which states: “No person in the United States 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.”

Allegations focus on the differences between the facilities used by the softball team and baseball team at Canyon High School, according to the complaint.

“Opening a complaint for investigation in no way implies that (Office for Civil Rights) has made a determination with regard to the merits of the complaint,” according to official Office for Civil Rights documents.

The complaint states that the allegations were brought to the attention of the William S. Hart Union High School District on June 21, but no response was received.

The complaint was filed July 15.

Hart district officials have not been notified of the Office for Civil Rights complaint, said Hart district Title IX Coordinator Greg Lee, nor was Lee aware of any prior complaints that had come to the district about the current state of Canyon’s softball facilities, he said.

“I have not had any complaints from anyone affiliated with Canyon softball about the facilities there, and I’m 99.9 percent sure that the people in operations or facilities have not received any complaints,” Lee said Tuesday.

“We are responsive to these kinds of complaints, and we try to be responsive when someone has concerns because we have a lot of facilities, and there may have been something we did not notice. All we ask is give us an opportunity to address it.”

Previous complaint

The Signal received a copy of a confirmation letter sent by Office for Civil Rights employee Dorothy W. Brady, which states, ‘This is to acknowledge that the U.S. Department of Education, San Francisco Office for Civil Rights (OCR), received your complaint on July 15, 2014. We are evaluating your complaint to determine whether OCR will accept your allegation(s) for investigation.”

According to the source close to the investigation, the complainant — who was not identified because the Office for Civil Rights does not reveal the identity of complainants of class complaints — was contacted by Robert Danese, a department civil rights investigator, and informed that an investigation would proceed regarding inequality between the softball and baseball facilities at Canyon.

The district should be informed of the investigation in the coming days, according to the source.

When reached by phone, Danese said department policy prevented him for commenting on any case.

According to Lee, Canyon’s softball fields were upgraded with a scoreboard and improved dugouts in 2008 after another complaint was filed with the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights by a then-Saugus parent.

The complaint filed in December 2007 alleged the William S. Hart Union High School District discriminated against students with disabilities and had failed to provide equal benefits, opportunities and services to male and female athletes.

It was filed by a parent of a then-Saugus softball player and cited Saugus High School, but it also cited Hart and Canyon high schools.

Additional Canyon High softball field improvements were made this summer, including new fencing along the left field foul line and replaced fencing on the bottom half of the infield fence, head coach Tim Melton said.

The school also recently saw an upgrade to the softball backstop, according to Canyon Assistant Principal Jason d’Autremont and Melton.

“I feel very strongly the softball facilities around our league are comparable and at any of our campuses are comparable to the baseball facilities,” Lee said.

“Does that mean they’re exactly the same? Well, they’re not the same sport, so due to the size of the venue you’re going to have distinctions.”

Side by side

The baseball field at Canyon is located on campus and includes a permanent fence and irrigation system. An irrigation system control unit is visible near the baseball field’s home dugout, and sprinklers are visible in the field.
The complaint cites the softball irrigation system.

“The head (softball) coach at Canyon drags a water hose around the field for an hour and a half every day, while every other softball facility in the district, including the Canyon boys baseball field, has their field watered by an irrigation system on a timer,” it says.

Melton confirmed that the softball field has sprinklers only in the outfield and that the team must water the infield by hose.

The baseball field is located on the Canyon High campus, and  on Tuesday it was locked at all entrances. The softball field is also on the campus, but on Tuesday a gate was standing open between it and North Oaks Park. Members of the public were using the field, which on Tuesday was striped for football use and had two soccer nets on it. 

The public can use the field only by permit from the district, spokeswoman Gail Pinsker said Wednesday.

"The field is typically locked, but multiple school groups can gain access from the park with the use of a gate key, and the gate has sometimes been left open," she said in a statement Wednesday.  "We have now locked the gate with a unique lock so access is only through the campus."

The baseball field includes two batting cages and at least two visible storage units. The softball field has one batting cage. 

It also has an equipment shed, but according to the complaint, “The softball equipment shed is uninhabitable according to the district and full of rats.”

“The rats are destroying our equipment bags and the girls’ bat bags that were purchased with the money we raised through the booster club,” the complaint says. “The red tape that is involved in the district and school making decisions is painfully slow, unless it has to do with Canyon football or baseball.”

Regarding field conditions, holes were visible Tuesday in the grass and dirt just behind the infield of the softball facility, and the infield appears to be hilly rather than smoothly graded.

According to Lee, the district has plans to grade the field to ensure it is level. But when contacted for comment, Melton said the current state of the field is on par with its state during the softball season.

Some of these issues have been brought to the district in the past, according to a parent who wished to remain anonymous for fear that her daughter, who played in the Canyon softball program last year, would be punished.That parent claims she notified the school about field problems, and then the district when nothing was fixed.

That parent also claims she told at least one district official that if an injury occurred on the field, someone would sue. Shortly afterward the outfield was improved, the parent said, but the infield remained unsatisfactory, in their opinion.

What’s next

Both the source familiar with the situation and the complainant said the department has determined to conduct an investigation and will notify the Hart district of that investigation.

The district has the opportunity to resolve the complaint prior to the conclusion of the investigation.

Should the two parties agree to resolve the complaint, the Office for Civil Rights acts as a facilitator, aiding in negotiations without proposing a solution.

If no agreement is negotiated, the office will determine in the case of each allegation whether “there is insufficient evidence to support a conclusion that the recipient failed to comply with the law, or a preponderance of the evidence supports a conclusion that the recipient failed to comply with the law,” according to the office’s website.

In the event of extreme and persistent failure to comply with the office’s directions to correct gender inequity, the Office for Civil Rights could “either initiate administrative enforcement proceedings to suspend, terminate, or refuse to grant or continue federal financial assistance to the recipient, or will refer the case to the Department of Justice. OCR may also move immediately to defer any new or additional federal financial assistance to the institution,” its website states.
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