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New Hanover County Schools addresses potential Title IX violations for sports teams

NHCS/Helen Grant Consulting
NHCS Audit

After conducting inspections this spring, auditors found facilities that weren't equal for male and female students — a potential violation of federal Title IX law. The district says it's planning to address the issues.

A third-party agency, Helen Grant Consulting LLC, conducted an audit of New Hanover County Schools’ compliance with Title IX law.

Title IX is federal law and the district must comply with its regulations in terms of equal opportunity and equitable treatment in participating in sports, which includes access to facilities, support services, and locker rooms, for example.

The agency's auditors reviewed four high schools and seven middle schools in April of this year. They found that some area high schools were in violation of Title IX, particularly Hoggard and New Hanover high schools, but also potential concerns at Laney High School.

For Hoggard, auditors reported “[a]s indicated by photos, the differences in the softball and baseball facilities (not including hitting facility) is a Title IX violation. Also, the softball hitting cage had been replaced after the hurricane but was not installed," although it was not clear if auditors were referring to Isiais in 2020, Dorian in 2019, or Florence in 2018.

Comparison between Hoggard baseball and softball facilities
NHCS/Helen Grant Consulting
Comparison between Hoggard baseball and softball facilities

For New Hanover, there was also photo evidence that shows differences between the school’s softball and baseball facilities.

And for Laney, it was unequal access to the hitting facilities. “Additionally, the athletic director [AD] should compare pitching machines for baseball and softball and ensure they are of equal quality.”

An audit, not an active complaint

However, as for the violation language in the audit, Title IX Coordinator Jarelle Lewis, said “so it's really just the third party saying if there was a Title IX complaint, there will most likely be a violation because of this concern or this issue.”

At Tuesday’s board meeting, Jarelle Lewis and the district’s Athletic Director Kelly Lewis presented the audit through a PowerPoint presentation.

Jarelle Lewis said the auditors reviewed things like the district’s sports rosters to check for proportionality enrollment by gender, provided questionnaires for coaches and students to answer, and conducted in-person interviews with coaches and athletic directors.

Title IX law says the participation should be proportionate to the overall population.
NHCS/Helen Grant Consulting
Title IX law says the participation should be proportionate to the overall population.

Compliance with Title IX law is enforced by the Office for Civil Rights under the U.S. Department of Education. According to Jarelle Lewis, “there is not an open Title IX complaint related to athletics at the moment, so we're proactively doing this work.”

But Lewis said, it’s not necessarily about just compliance, “it's really is about making sure our students have equitable opportunities to participate fully in New Hanover County Schools and activities.”

In addition to the area’s high schools, the auditors found issues with some of the middle schools. They said, “indoor facilities were well maintained and cleaned except for Williston. Outdoor facilities were well maintained for the most part but several had fencing that needed replacing (broken, down, rusted).”

For example, at the Trask baseball field, auditors found the “fencing was down, bent and rusted, batting cage fencing was destroyed and ground not maintained.”

In addition, auditors wrote that “Williston appeared to be the oldest school and the athletic facilities showed that. No Title IX violation but health and safety are high risks for all. Not cleaned adequately and lots of rust.”

Jarelle Lewis said both the district Athletics Director Kelly Lewis and the district’s Assistant Superintendent of Operations Eddie Anderson needed to have more oversight over issues brought up by the audit.

Getting back into compliance

Anderson said that with the audit’s identified areas of concern, the district is now getting cost estimates to fix some of the facilities' issues. He said they’ve hired a design firm, LS3P, to provide an assessment for upcoming capital budget discussions. Anderson said payment for the LS3P’s contract is part of the district’s current operating budget.

Vice Chair Stephanie Walker asked Jarelle Lewis, “Is there a timeline to get this remedied?”

He responded when there are violations like these, if the district has a plan to fix the issues, then any potential investigators will work with them. “We need to show we’re working on it.”

Anderson said that even though the district is working on plans to improve these issues, it could be an implementation timeline of one to three years.

Board High McManus asked what role parents and booster clubs could play in giving money to upgrade facilities. Jarelle Lewis said the money has to be spent equitably — that funding can’t be given specifically to a particular team, and that females are typically the underrepresented class.

Anderson followed with the district’s priorities are bringing Hoggard and New Hanover into compliance – and that he’ll present the facility upgrade costs to the Capital Outlay Committee in January or February 2023.

“We look forward to making the repairs. I know this is a topic of concern to our community members at New Hanover and Hoggard High schools, and we definitely look to make these adjustments and improvements so that our female athletes are able to fully participate in our programs with activities,” said Lewis.

Rachel is a graduate of UNCW's Master of Public Administration program, specializing in Urban and Regional Policy and Planning. She also received a Master of Education and two Bachelor of Arts degrees in Political Science and French Language & Literature from NC State University. She served as WHQR's News Fellow from 2017-2019. Contact her by email: rkeith@whqr.org or on Twitter @RachelKWHQR