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CHS parent alleges Title IX violation by district

by Steven Felschundneff  |  steven@claremont-courier.com

A longstanding inequity between boys and girls sports at Claremont High School is overdue for a correction, according to some CHS parents.

On January 14, CHS softball booster president Rocio Herrera sent a letter to Claremont Unified School District officials regarding what she believes is a Title IX violation involving the softball program.

For years, varsity softball has practiced and held its home games at Cahuilla Park just north of CHS. However, the varsity baseball field is on campus and includes many amenities the softball facility lacks, according to the letter, which was forwarded to the COURIER. Junior varsity softball and baseball also use the park for practice and games.

“Varsity baseball has a beautiful field on campus, with a clubhouse, multiple cages, clean state of the art dugouts, a locker room to change in, stadium seating, an electronic scoreboard, and most importantly, access to clean, safe, well lit, and maintained restrooms. The restrooms are next to a beautiful snack bar as well,” Ms. Herrera wrote in the letter.

By contrast, the softball program relies on the city of Claremont for maintenance of its fields and facilities. The condition and safety of the restrooms were a particular concern for Ms. Herrera.

“The girls do not have a locker room close to the field and are forced to change in a two-stall poorly lit bathroom, which is frequently occupied by transients and homeless people. There is urine on the floor and the doors do not lock. There is no lighting other than ambient light, therefore, when it gets dark the restroom is dark and unsafe,” the letter states.

The distance from the high school to the softball field is another potential problem. Ms. Herrera expressed concern for the students’ safety crossing the parking lot to get to the games. Additionally, if an athlete were injured during a game, the trainer must come all the way from campus to provide medical aid.

“There is more than enough room next to the baseball field for a softball field (approximately two to three soccer fields worth of space). I know that we can’t realistically have a field built overnight, but equal accommodations need to be provided for our female athletes immediately,” Ms. Herrera wrote in the letter.

Any permanent solution will take time, and a fair amount of money, but Ms. Herrera thinks a portable locker room, possibly by the tennis courts, could be a first step. Furthermore, earmarking money from the sale of the former La Puerta Intermediate School site could pay for the construction.

Ms. Herrera had a brief meeting and has been in email contact with Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Kevin Ward regarding her complaint. 

Mr. Ward confirmed that CUSD received a letter from a parent about a Title IX issue at Claremont High School. The district also received an official complaint from the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights which means the government determined the case could have merit. The OCR has now requested documentation from CUSD officials and will be looking at equity of all girls sports at CHS, not just softball.

“It’s the first time we’ve had a compliant from OCR in the time I have worked here.” Mr. Ward said.

Now that an investigation is open, Mr. Ward said he cannot comment about the specifics of the complaint. However, the district will cooperate completely with OCR and the parent involved to address potential inequities in CHS sports.

“We will continue to work with the parent for both short term and long term [solutions],” he said.

In the short term, CUSD has been in discussions with the city about cleaning up the restrooms and improving maintenance in the park. They also will explore the idea of a portable that could be used as a locker room.

The cost to build a softball field on campus is an open question. However, Mr. Ward said, depending on the OCR’s findings, the district would be given a certain amount of time to implement the OCR’s recommendations, including a mediation period with the parent.

Title IX requires equity across the program, so junior varsity accommodations must be equal as well. However, there is not enough room on campus to accommodate all levels of the softball and baseball programs. As a result, JV softball and baseball will continue to use Cahuilla Park.

A longtime Claremont resident, Ms. Herrera said there have been various plans to build a softball complex on campus going back to the 1970s. She brought up the issue with previous softball coaches, but none showed any interest. The current coach, Brian Ota, is the first to give her any support.

“I am not interested in politics, I am interested in coaching,” Coach Ota said after practice Wednesday. He did mention that even though softball has been played in the park since 1972, any team would rather play on campus. Still, he said, the matter is in the hands of CUSD officials.

“It’s so progressive here, it’s surprising nobody ever spoke up before,” Ms. Herrera said. “As a resident I am ashamed of those restrooms.”

Her daughter, Alexis Jimenez, played softball at CHS for four years and graduated in 2019. Alexis suffered several injuries while on the team that Ms. Herrera blames on poor maintenance of the field. Another daughter, Brianna Salizar, will be a freshman next year and plans to play softball.

The team is already practicing for the upcoming season, which begins with a tournament Saturday. The first home game is scheduled for March 10 against Ayala.

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