TITLE IX By Jillian Chesney

From being a field hockey coach and a professor at MSU, Trish Machemer stands by this quote: “Knowledge requires action and you need actions to change behaviors.”

Machemer is one of many people who feel that there needs to be change within the Dexter Community Schools regarding Title IX. This federal law passed in 1972 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.”

There is a group in Dexter that feels the district is not complying with this law. Dexter Field Hockey, along with many other sports, have been denied their rights under this law for many years. As part of compliance to this 47-year-old law, Dexter Community Schools has chosen Title IX Coordinators who develop a nondiscriminatory policy and put procedures into place to address discrimination complaints in educational programs and activities. Ken Koenig and Barb Santo are Dexter’s coordinators; a male and female were chosen to represent both genders. To become educated on Title IX, themselves and all other district members have to go through training.

“There’s an all-day workshop run by attorneys for the Title IX coordinators and an online lesson for all district members,” Koenig said.

In viewing the online training lesson, it never mentioned the phrase “Title IX” and a post-reading quiz consisted of true or false questions. The entire training is a mandatory requirement for district members; it’s essentially a teacher’s homework. For most quizzes, teachers are allowed to get one question incorrect. For example, teachers can answer seven of eight questions correctly on a quiz (87.5%) and earn a certificate of completion.

A screenshot shows one of the questions - basically asking "Can a male be sexually assaulted?" - on an eight-question quiz. This is the extent of training DCS employees have to complete; the entire training course can be completed in nearly one sitting. A few teachers admitted completing the training course in under two hours.

According to a DHS teacher, this training course has been shortened over the years. This is interesting considering many current events such as Larry Nassar’s years of sexual assault with USA gymnastics and at Michigan State University, a lawsuit regarding an improperly handled rape allegation against DCS, and the cutting of the men’s swim team at EMU.

Even with this Title IX training, are people really understanding it and acting in ways to change behaviors?

“You have to look at the nature of people who work in the school,” superintendent Chris Timmis said. “They generally care a lot about kids and the welfare of kids.”

To help determine whether the district is abiding by Title IX, the athletic directors must use the athletic assessment. This assessment asks the following questions: Is the number of athletic opportunities substantially equitable for both majority and minority student athletics? Are the athletic benefits comparable for both the majority and minority student-athletes? Historically, in athletics, the majority group is male athletes and the minority group is female athletes.

“We have found that boys are multi-sport athletes, unlike girls, which is a unique problem in itself,” Timmis said.

The definition of equity is the quality of being fair and impartial; equity does not mean equality. Also, one must look at the overall support, equipment and supplies, scheduling of games and practice times, travel and related expenses availability of coaches and their compensation, locker rooms and training facilities, medical and training services, and lastly publicity. These are all the areas that need to be equitable across all men and women's sports.

Regarding participation numbers, a school can meet the Title IX “three-prong test” by illustrating at least one of its explicit requirements: “The percentages of male and female athletes are about the same as the percentages of male and female students enrolled at the school; OR that the school has a history and a continuing practice of expanding athletic opportunities for female students, since they usually have been the ones given fewer chances to play; OR that the school is fully meeting female athletes’ interests and abilities,” according to the National Women’s Law Center.

To be Title IX compliant, a school only needs to demonstrate that it meets one of those requirements. Since more boys are typically multi-sport athletes, unlike girls, would it be a possibility for DHS to add any funded women’s sports?

This information provided by Chris Timmis shows the imbalance of participation numbers between genders.
“I don’t know; It’s always a possibility,” Timmis said. “We added competitive cheer about three years ago, but we don’t fund it.”

At DHS, the number of athletic opportunities are not substantially equitable between genders, nor are the athletic benefits. In 2017, while the student population was pretty split, there were 169 more boys participating in funded and unfunded sports. The people who are participating in club sports have to typically pay anywhere from $250-$400; playing one funded sport is only $167. Also, funded sports offer a family cap of $700 per year; this is nonexistent in unfunded sports according to information provided by Timmis.

This information provided by Chris Timmis displays the various fees between funded and unfunded sports.

Many students said that a person shouldn’t have to change their sport just to be able to pay less. Also, the same students felt the number of students participating in sports if they were all funded may rise; cost is always a participation factor. This would benefit the district for abiding by Title IX in athletics and address substantial proportionality. To adjust the disproportionate number of male and female student-athletes, students feel that the district should reallocate the money going towards the funded sports to have the money more equitably spread across all sports. To accommodate for excess needed funds, the teams can continue to fundraise to their desired extent.

Currently, Timmis said there isn’t enough money in the district to fund all sports.

“For us as a school district, our options are to pay for more sports or put more kids in a classroom,” Timmis said, expressing he would rather hire more teachers to lower the number of students in a classroom. “We’re not putting more money in the bank. We’re lacking money to pay staff members enough to keep them.”

Even if a school such as DHS meets one of the prongs under Title IX, it must also treat males and females equally; they must be receiving equal benefits and services from their school. This can be met by equal quality and quantity of equipment and supplies, fairness in scheduling games and practices, equal financial support for travel and expenses, fairness in assigning and paying quality coaches, and equal facilities. It doesn’t mean Dexter has to provide identical and equal benefits and services to their athletes, however, they must be treated equally overall.

Members on the field hockey team and other sports have felt that the athletic benefits have not been comparable between all male and female sports. From the start of the field hockey program in 2010, the team has been denied benefits of athletic support, facilities, and equipment. Field hockey has historically worked with football when scheduling practices and games; the football calendar is dictated by the state. The coaches from both teams have coordinated practice times and even sometimes shared the field. This previous season was different because both teams didn’t have to share the field. According to Timmis, he decided to place the football team at the grass fields for practice, while field hockey practiced at Al Ritt.

Some football players voiced concerns that field hockey prevented the football team from practicing at Al Ritt. Taking a look at the practice times for the 2018 fall season tells a different story. Football generally began practice at 3:30 pm, while field hockey generally began practice at 5:30 pm. Football could’ve used Al Ritt during the two hours field hockey wasn’t practicing. Secondly, the football coach complied with a request from the field hockey coaches to share the locker rooms. This was the first year the field hockey team had access to a locker room. For seven years, field hockey has been using the track shed as storage and as a meeting space.

“We didn’t know [the field hockey team] wanted a locker room until the year before,” Timmis said, noting that if other sports wanted to use the locker room they would be granted access.

Apparently, having access to a locker room is not a given; one must ask for equity.

If you have ever been inside or seen this shed, it is clear that a team of 40 people would not be able to fit. On top of size, consider the access to shelter during hazardous weather. During a field hockey game at Al Ritt in 2017, it was delayed because of lightning and both teams were instructed by the referees to take shelter. Without access to real locker rooms, Dexter offered the “spacious” shed to the visiting team, while the field hockey team along with the girls cross country team took shelter in the tunnel. The men’s varsity and JV teams were sheltered in both locker rooms.

Field hockey's use of the track shed as storage and a meeting space.
An inside look at the locker room's at Al Ritt.
“Dexter field hockey is very grateful to finally have access to a locker room during the past 2018 season,” senior Jenna Kauffman said.

Many teams feel that there needs to be a provision of practice and game schedule that complies with the Title IX Federal Law. There have been multiple times where elementary and middle school level football have displaced field hockey when the field hockey team had the field reserved. According to a retired Athletic Director in Washtenaw County, Dexter is unusual with middle school football games being played on a turf field.

According to Timmis, it’s necessary for their games to be played in the stadium. This has displaced many high school sports during their games. For example, field hockey has had their game and practice schedules for Al Ritt made and submitted by late spring. Throughout the last two seasons, field hockey has been forced to move game times and sought other athletic facilities to be able to practice. For example, middle school football is prioritized over field hockey because it’s a funded sport.

More than twice in 2018, the field hockey team was taken off the previously-approved schedule for use of Al Ritt stadium. This forced the Dreads to coordinate practices at Skyline High School. In response to this inequity, field hockey held a silent protest during one of the peewee football games on a Sunday, lining up their sticks along the fence at Al Ritt in opposition.

In refusing to be moved off campus for a second consecutive week, the two-time state finalist team opted to conduct a modified practice at home on the grass before their playoff game. They continued to practice by focusing on strength and using the grass patch directly outside the stadium. Although this had no real effect or change, it raised curiosity and awareness of the issue.

“A lot of people don’t realize it goes beyond field hockey at DHS," said an anonymous member of the field hockey team. "The issues that our program is trying to bring to light are faced by people across America. It’s bigger than just something in Dexter."

It's clearly bigger than Dexter. There are recent or current Title IX athletic cases at Eastern Michigan University, the University of Iowa, and Red Bluff Joint Union High School in California, just to name a few.

A turf field to field hockey is like an ice rink is to hockey; it’s necessary. A turf field is not essential for a football game. Field hockey needs the smooth, flat surface to be able to utilize skills and moves, and, most importantly, to keep players safe; the ball may travel up to 50 mph in a high school game. It’s a completely different game on a grass field since the ball moves a lot slower and different directionally.

Some district officials have stated that the new twin turf fields will address scheduling conflicts. But will the new twin turf fields help address facility inequities?

From the 2017 bond, a portion of the money went to building these two new twin turf fields adjacent to the high school. These fields were supposed to be completed in August of 2018, however, they weren’t completed until mid-October. This proved to be a major factor in field hockey and football displacement.

Although these fields are a helpful addition to the district, they have been referred to as practice fields and are lacking necessary amenities to be used for games. They were built without bathrooms, concessions, backstop netting, benches, bleachers, and a sound system. Regarding lacrosse nets, which help for other sports as well, Timmis downplayed the necessity.

“From the goal to the fence is about 100 to 120 feet and that’s a 6-foot tall fence; If you miss by that much, you need to go get your ball," Timmis said.

Because of these missing components, it’s not equitable to assume any sport would host their games here.

“I’m curious what competing interests led to spending $3.5 million on these new fields, but they cannot be used for games," Machemer said. "Also, I wonder what revenue could have been generated if football, soccer, lacrosse, field hockey, softball, and baseball games and tournaments could have been held at these new fields?”

Al Ritt will still have to be shared with all sports until this field is completed. Given there is only one track in Dexter, the track team will again have to coordinate with both the men and women's lacrosse game schedules.

“Girls soccer isn’t allowed to use the turf field because of men’s lacrosse," senior soccer player, McKenna Graham said. "Usually, senior night is played on turf - the only time we get to use it - but we weren’t allowed to this year because of the boy's lacrosse team, even though we had the field reserved. Also, we aren’t allowed to use the new turf fields and our field is s*** because the school doesn’t take care of it."

Timmis refutes this claim by addressing the various lines on the field.

“They are lined for soccer, lacrosse, football, band, field hockey, baseball, softball," Timmis said. "We made them so they are as flexible as possible."

Another element considered when assessing Title IX compliance and equity in athletic benefits are travel and per diem allowances. School-funded sports are supplied two-way buses to away games while club sports are not.

It’s essential for club sports to fundraise their own money for transportation since these sports aren’t given any money from the school. For games in the same county, club sports will typically have a one-way school bus or players and coaches will need to coordinate parent drivers because athletes aren’t authorized to drive themselves.

Do any components need to be revised to be in compliance with Title IX?

“The soccer team was going to Gull Lake for an overnight tournament and the bus was supposed to leave the high school at 3:00 p.m. and it was over an hour late," sophomore Nick Williamson said. "I remember the football team got two charter buses for their game that was like 20 minutes away and we got one normal school bus for 60 kids playing soccer in Gull Lake.”

Tennis is another sport that has experienced transportation issues.

“It’s super hard for tennis to get buses to matches, and those buses are almost always significantly late,” said an anonymous senior tennis player.

Assessing equity in benefits is a difficult and complex task, but asking various Dexter student-athletes if they believe there is equity could easily start with asking them how they know if their team is supported by the school.

“It’s not [supported]," said an anonymous swimmer. "Everyone hates the swim team, so it’s basically not.”

This mirrored the response from a number of students and, overall, the majority of student-athletes felt that their sport wasn’t supported by the school, even if it was funded.

To contrast these feelings, a football player was asked the same question.

“I know I’m supported because of a lot of people go to our games,” senior Andy Durand said.

When he was made aware of these feelings, Timmis responded to the students who felt unsupported by the school in an apologetic way.

“That’s hard," he said. "It hurts me to know that we have students that feel they aren’t treated equitably. I’ll be honest, I think when we know there’s a problem, I think we’ve really tried to fix it. Sometimes we aren’t aware of the problem.”

Additionally, in terms of publicity, Dexter’s 2018-19 student section Instagram account has one post to advertise for a women’s sport. Every other post has been for mens sports such as football, hockey, and basketball. The Twitter account shows more support, however the advertising for male sports still towers over that for female sports.

Title IX is much broader than equity between sports, and there are Title IX issues more important than fields or locker rooms. This law also applies to sexual assault and sex-based harassment. According to the U.S. Board of Education, Title IX requires schools to “take steps to prevent and remedy two forms of sex-based harassment: sexual harassment (including sexual violence) and gender-based harassment.

Sexual harassment is an unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature. It includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal, nonverbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Sexual violence, as OCR uses the term, refers to physical sexual acts perpetrated against a person’s will or where a person is incapable of giving consent. A number of different acts fall into the category of sexual violence, including rape, sexual assault, sexual battery, sexual abuse, and sexual coercion.”

Last winter in 2017, Dexter Community Schools performed an independent investigation of Title IX by hiring an attorney referred to as Thrun to conduct an investigation. This resulted in a report that is dated in February 2018. The athletic committee (ad hoc committee of the Board of Education) was given an opportunity to review it in the spring. After a number of community members asked to see the report in the fall of 2018, the Board of Education voted to release it to the public.

According to MLive, BOE member Barbara Read voiced concerns about the equity between the male and female cross country teams to Barb Santo, the Executive Director of Human Resources for DCS. This sparked the investigation. The Thrun Report made recommendation to address equity, however, it concluded that there was not sufficient evidence of inequity. The report stated, “We cannot gaurantee that The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”), if tasked with investigating a complaint, would reach the same conclusions.” In addition to the Thrun Report, a Title IX “complaint” needs to be addressed.

“DCS spent between $20,000 and $21,000 on attorney fees to investigate the Title IX Complaint and harassment allegation,” Timmis stated.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t an official complaint, as Read just voiced her opinions. It was not a filed Title IX complaint because it lacked a legal action with the Office of Civil Rights or OCR. Currently, the Board of Education hired another attorney, Eric Delaports, to examine the equity across all sports.

“He is working by talking to coaches and male and female student athletes,” Santo said.

Many hope the Title IX investigation will lead to action and changes in Dexter Community Schools and equity across all sports. In addition, maybe those changes in Title IX training will lead to protecting students for the many years to come regarding sexual assault and violence when the nature of a teacher fails.

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