A compliance review supervisor says be prepared for the OCR's visit.
That was the question posed repeatedly last year by Mary Haugen, one of two athletic directors (one male, one female) at Prior Lake (Minn.) Senior High School, to members of the school board as deliberations dragged on over whether the school would respond to a parent's complaint by adding a girls' ice hockey program. The board's primary concerns were money and money, in that order - starting up girls' hockey would cost $37,000 - but Haugen wanted to be sure everybody recalled what preceded Prior Lake's addition of girls' soccer in the fall of 1993.
A parent had filed a complaint with the state the previous year, after Prior Lake's school district refused to fund a girls' soccer program. Within a few months, the ISD #719 superintendent, Leslie Sonnabend, received word from the Office for Civil Rights that the school had been "randomly selected" for a Title IX compliance review. The OCR's six-page letter was forwarded to Haugen, who was put in charge of compiling reams of data requested under 30 separate headings.
"Board members who'd been there said, 'Yup, we don't want the Justice Department in our stuff again,' " Haugen says. "But the new people kept saying, 'Nobody can force us into this.' They had no idea how much time and effort we spent back in '93. It was very frustrating."
There are a few myths surrounding compliance reviews. One is that the Feds show up eager to pounce on schools that demonstrate even the most minor inconsistencies in the treatment of boys and girls. Another is that a school's explanations for any such inconsistencies are irrelevant.
Both are untrue, according to Haugen. The OCR seemed eager to help and to listen, and did not, in its eventual ruling, insist on 100 percent adherence to the concept of proportionality.
"If we had an explanation for what we did, that really was fine with them. It wasn't like they said, 'No, the book says this or that.' They allowed for our school's individuality," Haugen says. "It's a credit to the legislation that as cumbersome as the process is, it does allow you to explain why you do what you do, and how you feel you're accommodating kids in your situation."
One myth, however, turned out to be true. "They're very good bureaucrats," Haugen says.
The OCR gave the staff at Prior Lake about a month to prepare for the three-person, five-day site visit. Haugen had to send the OCR its student-athlete eligibility lists, from which the OCR randomly selected 60 students to interview. Haugen then had to draw up an interview schedule, where each student was given 15 minutes with an OCR staff person, and a second schedule so the head coach of every sports team could be interviewed.
As those who know the scope of an OCR investigation are probably aware, Prior Lake's paperwork was just beginning. To summarize, to determine a school's compliance with Title IX, the OCR looks at nine areas:
1. Accommodation of student interests and abilities
2. Provision of equipment and supplies
3. Scheduling of games and practice times
4. Travel and per diem allowances
5. Opportunity to receive coaching, and assignment and compensation of coaches
6. Provision of locker rooms, and practice and competitive facilities
7. Provision of medical and training facilities and services
8. Provision of publicity
9. Provision of support services.
Haugen says, though, that even most people familiar with the subject of gender equity can't really know the amount of work this entails until they actually go through it themselves.
To give an example, consider one of these compliance areas - equitable division of facilities. The OCR's 30 requests included the following:
"22. A listing of all locker rooms, practice facilities and competitive facilities used by each team, indicating the name and age of the facility, whether it is on or off campus, and whether the facility is used exclusively by certain teams or programs. Also, please include a schedule showing when any facilities are used for practice and how long the locker rooms are assigned for use by each team (i.e., competitive season only or all year).
You may wish to provide a diagram or map of the high school to indicate the location of all facilities.
"23. Copies of any policies and procedures regarding the provision of medical and training facilities and services to student-athletes.
"24. A list of each weight, training and conditioning facility available to athletes, indicating the teams, by sex, using the facility, the schedule of use and the location of the facility. If available, include a list of the name and type of equipment in each facility."
If this information is kept in an athletic department's files, it need only be located, copied and added to the stack. But as Haugen points out, some departments' files only go back one year (the OCR prefers to go back two or three years so it can take into account trends and patterns in a department's procedures), and many have never committed policies to paper.
"Some of the things they asked for we didn't have at all, like facility maintenance schedules," Haugen says. "They wanted more detailed information, but we didn't have any way to break down for them how much of a custodian's salary is paid because he has to be here for athletic events, for example, or the amount of lights and heat used, by sport. Another thing they asked for was replacement schedules for equipment. My response was that the district didn't have specific replacement schedules, since money has been so limited that little capital equipment has been purchased with school funds. We told them that uniforms are generally purchased on a three- to five-year rotating basis, but there's no hard-and-fast schedule in place. That was acceptable to them.
"Other things followed district policy," she continues. "And for some other things, we had a process we followed but we didn't have it in writing. They wanted to know the budget process, for example, so I wrote a five-step process with a little intro and summary paragraph. Most of all, what they wanted was something in writing, because that would show the way the district does its business, and that it isn't just making things up as it goes along."
The package Haugen shipped to the OCR weighed 26 pounds. Investigators reviewed the materials, and then brought them to Prior Lake the week of their visit, and spent significant chunks of time paging through them with Haugen, asking questions. They also toured all the athletic facilities on Haugen's list, observing and asking questions.
They left no stone unturned, she recalls. She had to be able to demonstrate that the school's "pride and joy," a weight training room then two years old, contained equipment that all athletes and both genders could comfortably use. The investigators used each piece of machinery, tested the weight stacks, adjusted the seats and checked to see that a full range of machines was available to all - and Haugen, who is five-foot-three, played guinea pig.
The same occurred in the school's training room. The investigators checked accessibility by measuring the distance of the room from both the boys' and girls' locker rooms, observed how boys and girls were served and made lists of available supplies to ensure that more than football was being planned for.
And then they left. "And they didn't tip their hand, either," Haugen says.
Three months went by before they heard anything, and when it came it wasn't a good sign: The OCR wanted new measurements taken of the locker rooms. At issue was a private shower area that had been converted to a team meeting room so male coaches could meet comfortably with their girls' teams in a locker room setting while allowing the rest of the locker room to be utilized by other girls.
The OCR's final determination, however, issued in July 1993, did not find the locker rooms unequivalent despite several complaints logged by female athletes during the interview process and a noted disparity in the number of lockers available to boys and girls during the fall because of football (while the numbers were even in the other seasons, the OCR counted 1.18 lockers for each female participant in fall sports, compared to 1.55 lockers for each male). The OCR also found a disparity in the quality of competitive facilities provided to boys' and girls' sports (the result primarily of deficiencies in the girls' softball field), but "determined that the disparity was not sufficient to represent a violation of Title IX." Oh, and the school promised a girls' soccer program would debut that fall.
"Case closed," Haugen says.
So last year, when a parent threatened to file a formal complaint against the district for failing to add girls' ice hockey, Haugen was more than prepared, she thought, to combat any show of stubbornness by the board. Although it took the complaint being filed to spur the board to act, Haugen is happy to report that her school's girls' hockey team took the ice for the first time this October 27.
Haugen has recounted her gender-equity experiences to many ADs, both to warn and reassure them. Her primary piece of advice is simply to save everything, as she had done, but she's quick to dodge the label of pack rat.
"You have to be able to keep good records and have this kind of stuff at your fingertips when called upon to have it," she says. "Is that being a pack rat, or is that just being prudent in this day and age?"
Her primary message is also simple: A compliance review is ultimately a worthwhile experience.
"I really believe going through the whole review helped us, because it really forced us to look at what we were doing and clarify what we have to do to stay equitable," Haugen says. "I don't know what we would have done, though, if they'd asked for stuff we couldn't produce."