Parents of a New Hope High School student-athlete have filed a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights alleging the Lowndes County School District is not providing equal access to athletic opportunities for both male and female students.
Anthony Palmer filed the complaint Monday morning. Palmer and his wife, Lori Palmer, are the parents of freshman New Hope High School student Kaiya Palmer, who is a member of school’s softball team. The complaint contends the school district is not in compliance with federal Title IX regulations.
Title IX forbids discrimination on the basis of sex in educational programs and activities that receive federal funding.
Anthony Palmer told The Dispatch the complaint is based on three areas. One, athletic periods during the school day — football, baseball and boy’s basketball all have class periods dedicated to strength and conditioning with their teams. Only girls basketball has this option, Palmer said. Two, disparities in strength training facility access — Palmer said football and baseball have unique training rooms, though no unique rooms exist for girls sports nor are there times when the weight rooms are only open to female athletes, Palmer said. Three, lack of access to equal coaching — Palmer contends that the baseball program at New Hope has four paid coaches, while the softball team has one paid coach.
LCSD attorney Jeff Smith told The Dispatch he has reviewed the Palmer’s complaint and has been in contact with the family. Smith said the district will likely discuss and investigate the matter. But Smith is confident LCSD is in compliance with Title IX and the district, he said, is not required to make changes that are not financially feasible.
“Under Title IX, it doesn’t have to be tit for tat,” Smith said, in explanation of certain inequalities the Palmers expressed.
Smith has forwarded the complaint on to the district insurance provider, in the event the complaint morphs into a lawsuit.
A formal letter, obtained by The Dispatch, from Smith to the Palmers on April 2 states, “I cannot see New Hope filing a Title IX, when they have adequate softball coverage, and as you might note the softball coverage is for females and not for males. An equal complaint could be made by male members or their parents.”
LCSD superintendent Lynn Wright told The Dispatch his office is examining the complaints. He said softball does not have access to athletic periods during the school day because coach Tabitha Beard, who coaches the softball team, is a math teacher, not a physical education teacher.
“It’s just like how we don’t have soccer in that (class period),” Wright said. “We would like to offer that period for all our sports.”
Wright said the district is looking for an additional New Hope softball coach. He added that an assistant left the district last year. However, Anthony Palmer said that when he asked about hiring an additional softball coach he was told that while it was on the list, it was not the first priority.
The superintendent said there are differences between equipment and facilities among various sports. New Hope recently received a new football fieldhouse, while an old maintenance shed has been converted into a softball locker room.
“We can not build a fieldhouse like that for every sport,” Wright said.
Smith said he has dealt with five or fewer Title IX complaints since becoming the school district’s attorney in 1990. He said this complaint has been unusual, because the Palmers contacted the district to formally complain prior to filing via the Office for Civil Rights.
The Palmers first reached out to the district’s Title IX officer, Peggy Rogers, March 18 to voice a complaint. Rogers responded in a timely fashion, as did Smith in two formal letters. But after not getting the response he was looking for, Palmer filed his official complaint with the Office for Civil Rights on Monday.
Palmer said he has been acknowledged respectfully by the district.
“I would say they have been amicable, but we just disagree,” he said.
Smith said under his tenure as the school district’s attorney, no complaints from the Office of Civil Rights have ever been taken to court.
For now, the Palmers wait on a response from the agency.