Salem-Keizer to review high school sports programs after Title IX complaint

The Salem-Keizer School District is reviewing its high school athletic programs after a federal civil rights investigation found the girls softball team had inferior facilities, equipment and access to coaching at Sprague High School.

Superintendent Christy Perry signed a voluntary resolution Nov. 3 agreeing to assess resources provided to all girls and boys sports teams at Sprague and report any inequities, along with a correction plan, back to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.

The agency opened its investigation in July after the federal education department received a complaint alleging the district was in violation of Title IX, the portion of federal education law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex in facilities receiving federal funding. 

The letter to the district announcing the investigation did not say who filed the complaint.

“OCR’s investigation to date indicated that the district may not be providing locker rooms, practice and competitive facilities to the girls softball teams that are comparable to those offered to the boys baseball teams at the school. Specifically, OCR received information reflecting that boys baseball at the school has superior playing fields, dugouts, bullpens, fencing, landscaping, bleachers, batting cages, and storage compared to what is provided to girls softball,” read a Nov. 4 resolution letter from the office to Perry.

The letter noted the district acknowledged many of these problems and was working to update facilities and rectify the issues.

Lara Tiffin, the district’s coordinator of athletics and activities, said in a Monday interview there had been inequalities between girls softball and boys baseball at Sprague, but many of the issues were being rectified before the complaint was filed.

“There have been a lot of improvements in the last year or so that are addressed in the complaint,” she said. “That’s been great to see just because it’s the right thing to do.”

Tiffin said some of the issues stemmed from a late coach hiring at the start of the 2021-22 school year. Sprague hired a math teacher who would also coach softball after the school’s master schedule had already been built for the year.

Generally, Tiffin said softball and baseball coaches who also teach have their prep periods at the end of the day so they have time to prepare the field and equipment for practices before school gets out.

But because the hiring took place after the school’s schedule was built, the teacher was scheduled to teach during those periods instead, impacting coaching availability for softball.

“Once they were made aware of the concern they provided substitute coverage on game days so she could prepare the field,” Tiffin said. 

This year, the coach has end of day periods free to prepare the field.

Construction on a school expansion and improvement wrapped up this fall at Sprague, with improvements to athletic facilities. Tiffin said part of that work included upgrades to athletic facilities, including better dugouts for softball, more spectator capacity and new locker rooms for female athletes.

Under the resolution, district officials must review sports programs at Sprague, focusing on the facilities, equipment, resources and coaching available to boys and girls teams. They must identify areas of inequity and report back to the Office of Civil Rights within 120 days.

The district also has 90 days to submit a correction plan and must report progress back every six months until issues are fixed.

Though the resolution focuses on Sprague programs, Tiffin said she intends to review all high school athletic programs through a Title IX lens to identify any other areas of inequity.

Her position is new this school year and focused on improving athletic and other after-school programs at secondary schools. Tiffin was previously the longtime principal of South Salem High School.

“We intend to have already addressed most of the components of the corrective action plan before it’s even developed,” Tiffin said.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.