Settlement Signed In Sitka Gender Equity Dispute

Moller Field re-opened in 2012 after a $2.6-million renovation. (KCAW photo)
Moller Field re-opened in 2012 after a $2.6-million renovation. (KCAW photo)

The Sitka School District has reached a settlement in a gender equity dispute over the community’s new ball field.

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The resolution means that high school baseball and softball will have to arrive at an equitable practice and game schedule at the city-owned field — a goal which has been difficult to achieve so far.

Superintendent Mary Wegner informed the school board Tuesday night (11-4-14) that an agreement had been signed with the individual who filed the complaint under a federal anti-discrimination statute commonly known as Title IX.

“The settlement proposed by the complainant was something that was very realistic, and something that will help us move our initiative forward in sharing Moller Field.”

The agreement was drafted by the federal Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights under the “Early Complaint Resolution” process. The agreement averts further investigation into gender equity in Sitka’s schools. District officials feared that a full-blown Title IX investigation would put several relatively recent programs at risk, such as football and soccer.

The agreement itself is only three paragraphs. It requires the district to develop a plan this fall for scheduling varsity baseball and softball teams for the 2015 season. The district must reaffirm its responsibility to ensure that both genders receive “equivalent benefits with respect to practice and game facilities,” and finally, the agreement does not constitute an admission of any violation of Title IX by the district, and the complaint is officially withdrawn.

“You know I’m really excited to see this,” says softball coach Bob Potrzuski. “Practice facilities, times of practice. Where one team is using the facility, it’s going to be on an equal basis with the other, and I think that’s exactly what we wanted.”

Moller Field opened in 2012 after a $2.6-million dollar renovation, including artificial turf and lights. Baseball, which historically played there, claimed the new field, though accommodations — such as a removeable pitcher’s mound and temporary outfield fence — were provided for softball games.

And a final twist: Moller Field doesn’t belong to the district. It’s owned by the city. Potrzuski says that created a grey area of scheduling that the Office of Civil Rights resolution has fixed.

“What it’s done is asserted the school district’s authority to assign Moller Field to high school teams.”

The OCR resolution specifies that the city’s Parks and Recreation participate — if needed — in the scheduling process developed for the spring season.

Sitka’s municipal government has already weighed in on the problem: It’s proposed asking the legislature for $1.5-million in renovations to the Frank Vilandre Field at Blatchley Middle School, so that it can be used for softball and Little League.

Superintendent Mary Wegner said the softball funding request was still on the table. And coach Potrzuski — though perfectly content with the OCR settlement — wouldn’t say no to a new field either.

“If the community can bear it, if the state can bear it, if this is something that certainly people bigger than me think that they can provide for our kids — I’m all for it.”

Potrzuski has consistently advocated for equity for his team, but did not file the Title IX complaint. That individual’s name will remain confidential. However, had the parties not arrived at an early resolution, the complainant would have been required to come forward  in the public process associated with a Title IX investigation.