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Hart District: Canyon field safe, needs work

Superintendent says he didn't see any unsafe conditions at Canyon High School softball field

Posted: August 22, 2014 10:04 p.m.
Updated: August 22, 2014 10:04 p.m.

Hart district Superintendent Rob Challinor says the Canyon High School softball field, the subject of a discrimination investigation by federal education officials, needs some maintenance but is due for improvements and is safe for use.

“I did not observe any unsafe conditions on the infield,” Challinor told The Signal after touring the field during the first week of school, which began Aug. 14. “Part of it — the grass — we need to seed and smooth out rough areas of it.

“The infrastructure is in place (at the facility). It’s in dire need of some TLC, which we plan to provide,” he said.

The outfield also needs work, Challinor said, restating what William S. Hart Union High School District spokeswoman Gail Pinsker has previously said: that use by football players during the summer, while construction was under way on the school’s turf field, caused more wear and tear than usual to the grass at the softball facility.

Challinor answered questions from The Signal after a parent, the school softball coach and a former softball player at the school all said the field is sub-par and two of the three claimed it was unsafe. Complaints were registered as far back as February, they say.

The district is under investigation by the federal Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights in San Francisco after a complaint was filed alleging inequalities between male and female athletic facilities on the Canyon High School campus — specifically, the boys baseball field and the girls softball field. However, the investigation is not about safety on the field.

“As part of our routine safety inspection we look at all of our facilities to make sure they are safe for our student athletes,” Challinor said.

He said the district has received no formal complaints since 2007, when the district was named in another federal civil rights complaint alleging the baseball and softball fields at Saugus High School were unequal under a law called Title IX, which requires public schools that receive federal funds to maintain equal facilities for girls and boys activities,

Besides naming Saugus, the 2007 complaint also claimed inequities at the Canyon and Hart fields. It was settled with upgrades to the three fields.

Challinor provided The Signal with a copy of an Office for Civil Rights closure letter from 2011 stating the district has fulfilled its obligations in the 2007 complaint.

A formal complaint of discrimination, according to the district’s Uniform Complaint Procedures, constitutes a written notice of a discrimination issue sent to the district’s Title IX Coordinator Greg Lee.

Canyon softball coach Tim Melton says he did not file the latest federal complaint against the district, but he did send emails to school and district officials complaining about the condition of the Canyon softball field.”

“Just yesterday (name omitted) was injured running to 1st base,” reads a June 21 email from Melton to district groundskeeper Tony Saraceni and obtained by The Signal. “She stumbled before she reached the base because the dirt is like sand.”

He said the player’s ankle was not broken, “but she’s in a boot and on crutches,” adding it was the second injury during softball summer camp. The team continued to use the field until summer camp ended June 27, and no new dirt was delivered, Melton said.

The email trail of Melton’s message obtained by The Signal suggests it went to Hart district Chief Operations Officer Ben Rodriguez, the top administrator in charge of school facilities.

District spokeswoman Pinsker said she read Melton’s email and the district treated it as a work order request, but she could not confirm if any work was done on the field.

Rodriguez declined to be interviewed by The Signal about softball field complaints or any work done there after Melton’s email. Challinor said he had directed his staff “not to discuss the complaint with the media.”

A California Public Records Act request asking for emails sent to or from Rodriguez and other district officials about the softball field was filed Aug. 8. The district responded Friday stating it would supply the emails on or around Sept. 26.

A Canyon parent complained last spring about the softball field’s condition.

“The field is just horrible,” said the woman, who declined to be identified by name for this story. “I called the district with the complaint and said it was really bad and I said if someone gets injured out there I’ll be the first one to go out and tell them we’ve been trying to get this taken care,” she said.

Former player Tiffany Dyson also said she knew of complaints about the field.

“It’s the worst one out of the league,” Dyson said of the field. She played softball at Canyon for three years before graduating in the spring.

“We’ve always had trouble with the outfield. There’s gopher holes all throughout the grass and some patches there’s not even grass. Since I’ve been there, we’ve always had complaints about the field.

“We’ve talked to the assistant principal of the school about it,” Dyson said. “I’m pretty sure that our assistant principal and the athletic director, I’m pretty sure they were aware of the conditions.

“I don’t want to compare it to the baseball field, but it’s definitely a way different level.”

The Canyon baseball field is behind a fence with locked gates. It is used exclusively by the baseball team.

The softball field has been accessible from a public park and used for other team practices and for physical education classes.

According to Challinor, the field’s multiple uses is a necessity at the school due to its relatively small campus.

“The issue here is Canyon High School is built on a very challenging site,” he said. “It’s undersized for a high school and there’s not enough turf space. We have the same problem at Saugus.”

Physical education classes will continue to use the space during the school year, he said.

When asked if the private use of the baseball field compared with the multi-use status of the softball field constituted an inequality, Challinor stated: “It’s not private. It’s for the use of the student athletes in the baseball program at Canyon.”

Facility space at Canyon is such an issue that non-varsity baseball teams have used fields at Sierra Vista Junior High, according to Challinor.

“We’ve got an undersized site and we have to use the available space we have,” he said

Jon Stein

Signal Staff Writer



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