HARTSELLE — Don Pettus urged the Hartselle school board to scrap plans for a proposed $2 million athletic complex if it can’t make it equitable for boys and girls.
The board met with a packed room of concerned parents, grandparents, teachers and coaches Monday to discuss whether the system’s plan to construct a 50,000-square-foot athletic facility for boys’ baseball and football and renovate the old baseball complex for girls’ softball is a violation of Title IX.
Title IX is a 1972 federal law that requires equal opportunities for males and females at educational institutions receiving public funds.
The school system’s original plan was to upgrade the existing baseball facility at the old Hartselle High campus and add locker rooms and a practice field for girls at the new high school.
Pettus said he’s concerned for the safety of his three granddaughters someday traveling from the new campus to the old one to take part in athletics.
“If you can’t do it fair, then you need to leave it like it is,” he said. “If you can’t make a decision about that, maybe you ought to put your names on a resignation.”
Hartselle’s new high school will cost more than the expected $40 million, forcing school officials to dip into the system’s reserve funding.
Last month, Superintendent William Michael Reed said he was certain that at least $100,000 from the reserve will have to be spent on the school.
Head softball coach Christy Ferguson said the plan needs to be revisited to allow the new athletic complex to have locker-room space for girls and boys. The new facility does not have a girls’ dressing room, but offers shared practice space and training, weight and meeting rooms.
She said the girls’ locker room at the new high school, which is about 100 yards from the proposed new complex, will not be not large enough for the softball players, cheerleaders and visiting sports teams.
Concerns about boys and girls sharing a common shower have also been raised, Ferguson said.
“You don’t have to put a locker room right next door to the boys at the new building,” she said. “Sharing is fine. We can put boys on this end and girls on the other end, and it will be my job to make sure it’s monitored.”
Freddie Lynn, director of architecture for Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood, said the board needs to decide whether to increase the footprint of the new athletic complex or reuse existing space to make the $2 million facility equal for both genders.
Lynn suggested that developers not touch the size of the practice facility, but eliminate the proposed weight, training and meeting rooms to make space for a girls’ locker room in the complex.
Lynn said it could cost between $200,000-$250,000 to add a locker room.
“How much indoor space do you take out to make room for the locker rooms?” he said. “We haven’t explored that yet — whether to add additional square footage to the facility or use the space that’s already there.”
Parent Howard Leslie said he believes the system’s current plan to renovate the old baseball facility sends the wrong message to female players.
“It would be a detriment to our community and send a terrible message to our children that the girls in this day and age are not up to par to the male athletes, even though they’ve won a state championship,” he said. “Not minimum, not refurbished facilities. They deserve our very best.”
Hartselle resident Guy Battles said the perception among many parents is that the female athletes were expected to accept improvements over equitable facilities without questioning the board.
“The girls want to be at the new campus,” he said. “We understand that they’ll be sharing, so sharing is not an issue. It just seems and the perception was and still is that they weren’t taken into account when all these plans were being made.”
Board Chairwoman Jennifer Sittason said the school board will consider the options to determine how to offer equitable athletics facilities and locker rooms for girls and boys within the school’s budget.
“It’s going to be a tough decision because we don’t have the money to build a new facility for every sport,” she said. “We’re going to have to use our money to get the best bang for the buck and also utilize the wonderful facilities we already have.”
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities which receive Federal financial assistance. Title IX 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.”
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