By Timothy Cox
The controversy over the Coldwater High School gymnastics program that was dropped for the coming school year isn't over yet.
A group of parents upset about the decision to fold the program have filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education's civil rights office, alleging sexual discrimination was the reason the girls sport was discontinued. Education department officials will conduct a fact-finding mission before deciding whether to pursue a full-blown investigation.
Superintendent Rich Seas said he is disappointed by the parents' decision to push the issue further. Administration officials had worked with the parents and gymnastics team for more than a year before finally choosing to drop the sport. The key concern, school officials said, was there was no local competition for the team after the two closest rivals dropped their programs a year ago.
"Given the manner by which the situation has been handled, I am extremely disappointed a group of parents cannot accept the fact ... the gymnastics program had to be discontinued," Seas said.
The complaint is filed under the Title IX anti-discrimination policy passed in 1972 to ensure equal educational and extra-curricular opportunities for men and women. The legislation only applies to educational entities that receive federal assistance. "The complaint alleges that the district discriminated against female high school athletes on the basis of sex when it discontinued girls' gymnastics in March 2005," says a letter from a member of the Department of Education's Cleveland office. "This allegation raises the issue of whether the district is failing to equally accommodate the interests and abilities of females in its interscholastic athletics program."
Seas said discrimination is not the issue.
"To make the claim we've discriminated against female athletes is simply untrue," Seas said.
The district now must hand over some information for education department officials to review before they decide whether to launch a formal investigation. The department seeks all policies, procedures about how the district adds or drops sports programs, records of all such additions and deletions from the program during the past 10 years, a breakdown of all sports and teams by sport, gender and competitive level and copies of any questionnaires that have been given to students to gauge their interest in certain sports. Education officials also want the number of students involved in every sport and schedules for those teams. The district also must document its reasoning for dropping gymnastics.
The letter to the district does not identify the people making the complaint.
Seas said Mel Steinbrunner and a group of other parents of gymnasts are the ones who initiated the complaint. Steinbrunner had questioned school board members and administrators at a past meeting about whether they were violating Title IX by dropping the gymnastics program.
The education department has not set a timeline for when the issue might be resolved.