Hartselle School Board’s central office was bursting at the seams with parents, grandparents and softball players wanting to make their presence known at the special school board work session Monday, Oct. 8.
The board called the special session after concerns arose in the past few weeks about the proposed plans for the $2 million field house to be built at the new Hartselle High School on Bethel Road. Many feel the plans pose a possible Title IX violation of the Education Amendments of 1972, a gender-equity law.
“I think this is a record for a work meeting,” Hartselle school board chairman Jennifer Sittason said to the standing-room only crowd.
The crowd was joined by several school officials, including HHS Principal Jeff Hyche and Director of Athletics Johnny Berry, as well as a stenographer and two school board lawyers, Spud Seale and Liz Carter.
Prefacing the meeting, Sittason said there has been “a lot of miscommunication” on the issue of who belongs in the $2 million field house in consideration for the new school.
The school board has announced definite plans for the girls’ softball, boys’ baseball and football teams to receive new practice fields at the new Hartselle High School campus. There are plans for tennis courts as well as other extracurricular activity areas. When it comes to each team’s designated space and lockers, however, some feel the girls’ softball team was an afterthought.
The proposed plans for the field house, as drafted by Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood, included locker rooms for the boys baseball and football teams, as well as shared facilities, available to both boys and girls, including practice area, weight room and conference area. A small portion of the new field house design is a locker and bath area, with the majority being the practice area and non-dedicated areas, with no lounge area, Director of Architecture Freddie Lynn said.
Superintendent Mike Reed recommended the approval of those plans, which the school board repeated in June with the acceptance of Garber Construction’s bid for the build.
Howard Leslie, a softball parent, voiced his concerns about having a $2 million facility where the softball players were not included.
“Were the girls never factored into this?” he said.
Leslie said leaving the championship softball team out of the new facility would send a “terrible message.”
“They deserve our very best. These are not just facilities, they’re tools, and lets not short change them,” he said.
Considering the options
“We’re here asking for your comments. This is a board decision and ultimately a board decision,” school board lawyer Spud Seale said before Sittason began to layout new options for the field house and sports facilities arrangements.
Originally under the approved construction plans was the understanding that the old baseball facility at the Sparkman Street Campus would be renovated for the girls softball team exclusively. Renovations would include updating the dressing rooms and practice areas, Sittason said.
Concerns posed for this option are mainly because of the age of the facility and the fact that the girls, some under driving age, would need to travel often across town to the facility.
Don Pettus, who has three granddaughters in the school system, called the proposal of renovating and having the girls drive to the older practice facility across town “ridiculous.”
“If you can’t do it fair, then you need to leave it like it is. If you can’t make the right decision about that, then maybe you ought to put your names on a resignation,” Pettus told the board members.
Option two would leave both softball and baseball teams sharing time at the old and new practice facilities on a rotation system. The teams already share the current facility. This would leave minimum upgrade to the existing facility and the girls would get a dressing room in the new school’s gym, Sittason said.
Option three is the possibility of not building the new facility after all and utilizing the existing facilities the school system already has, she said.
The softball and baseball teams already play season games at Sparkman Park, and the football team plays at J.P. Cain Stadium.
School board Lawyer Liz Carter said anytime a school system is building a sports facility, its size and consideration are based on the number of athletes that are serviced. There is no comparable sporting team with the number of athletes football has, and in with keeping “boys with other boys” it makes sense to put the baseball team with the football team in the new field house, she said.
“The question is ‘how can we best utilize the facilities and the resources that we have?’ ” school board member Monty Vest said.
The coach’s option
An interim coach was over the softball team while the fate of the coaching position and the new school were in discussion. Former coach Daniel Bates left the position last January to pursue another career. Though Christy Ferguson was hired as the new head softball coach, she was not involved in any discussions about the new school and where the softball team fit in until Thursday, Oct. 4, she said.
Ferguson said she had been taken on a tour of both the new gym locker rooms and shown what they would do with the old baseball facility the week before the work session.
“I’ve seen both places and it’s not big enough,” Ferguson said. “If I had a daughter I would not want them to dress in what they showed us last Thursday.”
If the girls’ softball team lockers were in the regular physical education locker rooms, the team would have several issues. Their equipment would not be secure, visiting girls’ basketball teams would have access to the locker rooms and it is not enough space for all the girls to get ready comfortably, Ferguson said.
“If we had had the Thursday meeting way back when, then we wouldn’t even be having this meeting,” she said.
Ferguson said the boys’ baseball would have “their own space” and the softball team would have girls P.E. classes and even teams they do not know invading their space. Her suggestion to the school board was to add a locker room for the girls at the opposite end of the new field house facility.
“Girls haven’t always gotten a lot in the past,” Ferguson continued. “If we get something we’re going to take care of it. It’s fair and that’s what they deserve. I hope that you do not use the existing proposals that were presented to us.”
Architects for the project said if girls’ locker rooms are added to the new field house the school board would have to decide whether they want to “increase the footprint or use the facility size you have.”
Freddie Lynn said it could cost up to $250,000 to add the girls’ locker room. He recommended they take a look at using the existing footprint of the field house and reworking some of the shared space for the locker room edition, if that is the option the board decides on.
The school board will weigh the options and try to rework plans for both boys and girls teams, as well as considering all other sports and extracurricular activities, Sittason said.
The Monday, Oct. 15, school board meeting was changed and now the next school board meeting will be Thursday, Oct. 25, at the central office. A work session will begin at 5:30 p.m. and the regular board meeting will follow.
Title IX of the Education Amendments 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.”
The Office for Civil Rights, which enforces Title IX, says “Programs and activities which receive ED funds must operate in a nondiscriminatory manner. These programs and activities may include, but are not limited to: admissions, recruitment, financial aid, academic programs, student treatment and services, counseling and guidance, discipline, classroom assignment, grading, vocational education, recreation, physical education, athletics, housing and employment. Also, a recipient may not retaliate against any person because he or she opposed an unlawful educational practice or policy, or made charges, testified or participated in any complaint action under Title IX. For a recipient to retaliate in any way is considered a violation of Title IX. The ED Title IX regulations (Volume 34, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 106) provide a detailed discussion of discrimination prohibited by Title IX.”
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