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Hart District Under Federal Scrutiny

Posted: February 5, 2008 11:32 a.m.
Updated: April 7, 2008 2:01 a.m.
A complaint received by the Office of Civil Rights for the Department of Education has prompted an investigation into allegations that the Hart district discriminates against students with disabilities and has failed to provide equal benefits, opportunities and services to male and female athletes.

Specifically, the complaint, issued in December, alleges that the Saugus High School softball field is inaccessible to students with disabilities, and that the athletic programs at Saugus, Hart and Canyon high schools do not provide locker rooms and fields that are equal for female and male athletes.

The complaint states that at Saugus High, "the accessibility to our girls (sic) softball field can't be achieved by a person needing a wheelchair," and that handicapped persons must stay on the upper level above the field to observe the games.

Rob Gapper, chief operations officer for the William S. Hart Union High School District, said there are bleachers on top of the hill available for handicapped spectators, and handicapped game participants can walk - or wheel - between buildings on campus and cross the outfield to get to the dugouts.

"I don't believe there's any basis for the complaint, but if there is, the Office of Civil Rights will inform us and we'll take the proper actions," Gapper said. "But I believe we are compliant."

The complaint also states that the girls' softball fields districtwide are inferior to the boys' facilities, which would be a violation of Title IX, the amendment that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs and activities operated by public schools.

"The boys' facilities are far superior to the girls'," the complaint reads.

Saugus softball parent Tim Bullock has been trying to get the district to make improvements to the Saugus field since school started in August, and he hopes the complaint that was filed will finally put everyone "on an even playing field."

"If you're going to do something, do it right. We just want the district to do the right thing for our kids," Bullock said. "If you do certain things there, it could be a really nice field."

The field was not used the past three years while Saugus High underwent an intense modernization project. In fact, the field was covered with portable buildings used during construction, and the softball team played at Central Park during that time.

Saugus Principal Bill Bolde said the district has made a lot of improvements to the field to get it ready for this season, including laying asphalt on a dirt trail behind the dugouts and installing a new backstop. A break-away outfield fence and bleachers for the upper level have been ordered, he said.

"I feel like we've done everything we can - I'm happy with the field," Bolde said. "It's much better than it was in the nineties when I was coaching softball there."

Bullock said he and other softball parents just want a nice field.

"A lot of parents are upset, but they don't know how to respond because they want their kids to play ball and they're afraid to speak up," Bullock said. "I've said this all along, these girls deserve better."

Gapper said that if violations are found, the district will do whatever it takes to correct it.

"I think we have equitable opportunities and facilities district-wide for our young men and young women athletes," Gapper said. "If there's something we are doing that is inappropriate in regards to Title IX or accessibility, we will be diligent in correcting that."

Principals from the three schools mentioned in the complaint got together last week to answer questions from the Office of Civil Rights, and the Hart district is cooperating with the ongoing investigation, Bolde said.


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