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Federal investigation raises gender inequality concerns with Pine Creek High School athletics

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- Following an investigation by the United States Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR), Academy District 20 has agreed to address Title IX concerns at Pine Creek High School.

In September 2022, a complaint filed with the OCR alleged fundraising by Pine Creek’s football team’s booster club created discrimination against female athletics, including locker rooms, equipment, travel, and medical services.

This complaint led the Office of Civil Rights to launch a full Title IX investigation at the end of January into Pine Creek High School and all its athletic teams. As part of the investigation, the office interviewed the complainant and reviewed the information, emails, data, and records from D20.

"The big thing that OCR is looking for is equity," said Igor Raykin, an attorney that specializes in Title IX law. "In a Title nine context, it's equity in terms of treatment and funding. It looks like in this case there were issues with both treatment and funding."

The investigation found the district refused to let female team managers go to the football team’s game in Las Vegas. The district said no team managers went because “coaches were present as chaperones and handled water issues during the game.”

However, while planning for the trip, a football coach allegedly said he didn’t want the female managers to go on the trip because he didn’t want “the football players to get in trouble for having females in their rooms,” according to the OCR’s findings.

The investigation found Pine Creek High School’s Title IX violations extended beyond football.

“The totality of OCR’s investigation to date reflects a concern that the School is not providing equal athletic opportunities for members of both sexes,” states an investigation document.

Across all sports, OCR found that both the PE and varsity boys’ locker rooms were larger than the girls, with 22 more lockers and 152 additional square feet. It also found that boys and girls don’t receive the same availability to medical personnel and athletic trainers.

“There is only one athletic trainer who covers an event with the highest chance of injury and student trainers are encouraged to participate at football games,” the investigation documents said.

The alleged discrimination extends to travel too. OCR said female athletes aren’t provided equivalent transportation as male athletes.

“Buses are reserved on a first come first serve basis regardless of sex, OCR has a compliance concern that the School is not taking into consideration equivalent opportunities for male and female athletics teams,” the investigation states.

In general, OCR is concerned about discrepancies in the purchase of equipment and uniforms between male and female teams based on fundraisers and booster clubs. It points to the tennis team as an example.

In the 2021-2022 school year, the boy's tennis team had $3,494.88 more in fundraising and booster money than the girl's tennis team. This allowed the boy's team to purchase racquets and an event tent that the girl's team couldn’t afford. D20 couldn’t provide OCR with a list of equipment and uniform requests, so by not monitoring expenditures, OCR can’t determine if there are other disparities between male and female athletics programs.

"It's actually quite common for the Office for Civil Rights to look at systemic problems, because the way they look at it is if there is a situation where there is a problem with one student, that may be an indicator that there is a problem with the way that the school or the district handled these kinds of gender discrimination issues," Raykin said.

On Friday, D20 entered into an agreement with OCR to “resolve the allegations” but said the agreement wasn’t an “admission of liability or wrongdoing.”

"With this settlement that the school district signed, it's not particularly burdensome on the district, so it makes sense because it's basically just a slap on the wrist from OCR," Raykin said.

13 Investigates reached out to the district, but D20 wasn’t able to provide further comment as administrators were out on spring break.

In the agreement, the district said it would implement an equity assessment and hire an outside assessor to look into all athletic programs at Pine Creek High School, related to locker rooms, availability of equipment, travel, and medical and support services.

The assessment will include a review of the district’s records, interviews with administrators and coaches, a survey for high school athletes, and a review of the benefits of team booster clubs.

Following the approval of the equity assessment from the OCR, the district will then provide specific guidelines on how it will ensure “equivalent athletic opportunities for males and females in the high school athletic programs.”

The district will also provide training to superintendents, athletic directors, principals, and all coaches about Title IX and the prohibition of retaliation.

The agreement replaces any full-fledged investigation. Instead, OCR will monitor the agreement until the district demonstrates its compliance with Title IX.

But Raykin argues a federal fine sends a stronger message to schools that violate Title IX.

"If OCR really wanted to ensure enforcement, if they really wanted to have a hammer behind them, then the most effective way of doing that is through fines," he said. "If you see violations, you fine the school. Nothing will motivate an entity from stopping discrimination quicker than taking away their money. And frankly, in Colorado, I just haven't seen OCR do that."

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Quinn Ritzdorf

Quinn is a reporter with the 13 Investigates team. Learn more about him here.


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