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'Insufficient evidence' in Title IX allegations

Posted: March 21, 2012 3:50 p.m.
Updated: March 21, 2012 5:00 a.m.

“Insufficient evidence.” That’s the word from a federal civil rights office regarding Title IX federal funding allegations against Lugoff-Elgin High School (L-EHS). Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, forbids sex discrimination in any activity receiving financial federal assistance.

Last spring, Kershaw County School District (KCSD) Superintendent Frank Morgan received complaints from Mike and Marti Gogan -- whose daughter participated on the L-EHS cheerleading squad -- addressing “wrong doings” in the athletic department at L-EHS. The Gogans, who have since moved to Illinois, said in an e-mailed document that there were “inequalities among our female athletes.” The Gogans addressed unequal athletic opportunities in regard to inequitable funding, equipment, facilities and coaching among female athletes.

In an ongoing fight for answers, the Gogans filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of State of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) on Sept. 20, 2011. The Gogans filed the complaint after both the district and the Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) conducted their own investigations and determined there was “no misconduct.” The OCR visited the L-EHS campus in January to further investigate the Title IX allegations. The OCR’s mission is to “ensure equal access to education and to promote educational excellence throughout the nation through vigorous enforcement of civil rights.” The office resolves complaints and forms “partnerships designed to develop creative approaches to preventing and addressing discrimination,” according to the OCR’s website. 

The KCSD received documents from the OCR March 12 which stated:

“In reaching a determination, OCR reviewed documentation submitted by the District, the Complainants, and the Complainants’ witness, conducted interviews with school personnel, district personnel, student athletes, the Complainants, and the Complainants’ witness, and conducted an onsite review of the school facilities…. After carefully considering all the information obtained during the investigation, OCR determined that there is insufficient evidence to conclude that the school denied female students equal access to coaching, facilities (other than the softball field and softball concession bathrooms as discussed herein), and equipment.”

In regard to allegations of retaliation against cheerleaders and members of the softball team the OCR said, “…we find insufficient evidence to support a conclusion that the district retaliated against softball players or the cheerleading squad.”

The OCR did find fault with the softball fields, which tend to flood, and the bathrooms, which were not maintained as well as the baseball bathrooms. The district has entered a “Voluntary Resolution Agreement” which will resolve these issues. The agreement states that the district “fully cooperated” and used the investigation to better construct athletics programs and evaluate the interests of female and male athletes by way of students interest surveys. The district will work with the OCR throughout the process of developing, administering and analyzing survey data; as well as relay information on tracking funds.

“All along we have had a real concern about these allegations and we will continue to do so,” said KCSD Communications Director Mary Anne Byrd. “We will keep up with every piece of the agreement until 2014; these are the kinds of documents we do anyway, so working with the OCR will serve as a checklist.”

The controversy began last May, when the Gogans claimed they found “discrepancies” in two financial accounts. The Gogans said the cheerleading team conducted several fundraisers where the money raised was not accounted for in bank statements.

In a letter to Morgan, the Gogans said cheerleading funds had been deposited into the general fund account and that cheerleaders needed new uniforms because the uniforms they had at the time were at least 10 years old. They addressed several improvements they said were needed in the L-EHS athletic department.

“Female sports programs at L-EHS are treated like ‘second-class citizens,’” the Gogans wrote to Morgan.

In a 10-page document he drafted in response to the complaints in August 2011, Morgan said the Gogans raised “valid points,” but did not agree that there was a disregard for Title IX. He said the district had conducted an internal Title IX inquiry not only at L-EHS, but the district’s other two high schools and four middle schools. He said the inquiry found that there was “parity” among the number of athletic offerings at L-EHS. As for the uniforms, Morgan agreed 10-year-old cheerleader uniforms were available and occasionally used by the L-EHS squad, but that there were two other options: a set purchased for the varsity squad in 2007 and another set for the junior varsity squad in 2007. New uniforms were purchased in 2011 and used at last August’s Camden Shrine Club Jamboree.

Morgan also offered to have KCSD CFO Donny Wilson meet with the Gogans to go over necessary documents together. Morgan said that never happened.

“I’m sorry we had to go through this for 10 months,” Morgan said Monday. “Over 1,000 pages of documents and we are basically doing what we were planning to do in August. A lot of good people got their name dragged through the mud.”

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