OCR investigates complaint against CSD
by Andy Collier
May 02, 2014 | 2576 views | 0 0 comments | 26 26 recommendations | email to a friend | print
During the week of April 7, the Cleveland School District received a visit from the Office of Civil Rights in regards to a complaint made against the school district saying that girls sports are not receiving the same athletic periods as boys sports.

The issue of boys and girls athletic periods falls under the Title IX law.

According to www.justice.gov, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is a law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity. The main objective of Title IX is to avoid the use of federal money to support sex discrimination in education programs and to provide individual citizens effective protection against those practices.

In sports over the years, Title IX has allowed girls programs to have equal rights and equal opportunities when compared to boys programs.

Cleveland High girls basketball and volleyball coach Jenny McCullough said her basketball team has not gotten an athletic period in three of the last four years.

McCullough said if you don’t have an athletic period, then you’re not allowed to start practice with your team until 20 days before your first game.

“That puts us at disadvantage when we’re going up against other schools,” McCullough said. “The schools we play against all have an athletic period.”

“If you have an athletic period, you can start on the first day of school. Basically what’s happening, if you don’t have that athletic period, we’re behind 45 days. That’s 45 days of practice that everybody that has an athletic period gets.

“I can’t do anything with my team before the season starts or until after the season is over without an athletic period,” McCullough added. “The only thing we’re able to do is run or lift weights. You can’t do anything with any equipment.”

McCullough is also a counselor at East Side High. When McCullough worked at Cleveland High School last year, she had a practice period. Before Cleveland High, she worked at the Cleveland Career Development and Technology Center. According to McCullough, she had a practice period up until her last two years at the Cleveland Career Development and Technology Center.

A reason why one sport may or may not get an athletic practice period maybe the availability of a certified employee that can conduct the practice period.

Cleveland School District Superintendent Dr. Jackie Thigpen explained the reason why teams maybe able to get an athletic period.

“For athletic period scheduling, the Mississippi Department of Education requires that no teacher may have an athletic period unless they also have a certification in physical education,” Thigpen said. “A coach may request an athletic period but athletic periods are only allowed if there is sufficient certified personnel to oversee the players during the athletic period.”

Thigpen said McCullough couldn’t leave East Side to hold a practice at Cleveland High.

“Because of scheduling and the needs of the ESHS students, it was not possible to have Ms. McCullough leave the ESHS campus during seventh period (the designated athletic period) to oversee an athletic period at CHS,” Thigpen said.

“As an alternative, Ms. McCullough was given the opportunity for an athletic period to be hosted by another faculty member (assistant girls coach or boys basketball coach), but she declined that offer.”

According to McCullough, she was not given that option this year.

“I don’t recall that even being discussed,” McCullough said. “We tried that before, and it didn’t work out well. It was not a productive situation.”

McCullough said she wasn’t sure why she didn’t have a practice period.

“This is the first year I’ve been at East Side, and I don’t have one,” McCullough said. “I don’t know. I think it could have been worked out. I was willing to do whatever I needed to do to make it happen.”

Thigpen stressed that the primary goal from a person that teaches and coach is education.

“The first obligation of a coach, who is also a teacher or counselor, is to fulfill his or her job as a teacher or counselor,” Thigpen said. “The CSD will work to provide the athletic period but scheduling can be difficult. This is why other alternatives – like having others coaches assist and the optional conditioning period exist.”

McCullough has said that she would come in at any time to work with her players.

“If the problem was doing what I need to do at East Side, I offered to come in every morning at seven o’clock to make up for the time that I would be missing if I went to my athletic period,” McCullough said. “I offered to take it during lunch and skip lunch to have basketball practice.”

Thigpen said the coaches that don’t have an athletic period during school hours may hold a 50-minute after school conditioning period with the approval from the Mississippi High School Activities Association. Girls basketball and fastpitch softball at Cleveland High School were approved.

McCullough didn’t feel the 50-minute after school period was enough.

“It’s not when every other team we play against has an athletic period where they are able to practice with a basketball,” McCullough said. “They are able to play, scrimmage, workout with their team during the day and all we can do is run and lift weights. How are you going to develop your skill as a shooter when all you can do is run?”

McCullough said all she wants is for everyone to have equal opportunities.

“I want our girls to have every opportunity that they can possibly have to be successful,” McCullough said. “When they don’t have the same practice time as the people we’re competing against, that’s not good. It’s not sending a good message to our student athletes.”

According to Cleveland Board of Trustees attorney Jamie Jacks, attorneys for the OCR on their visit of the CSD also looked at the facilities for boys and girls sports and the pay for boys and girls coaches to determine if they were equal.

The CSD has several sports for boys and girls to play sports. The sports that girls are currently playing at Cleveland High are basketball, track, swimming, golf, tennis, volleyball, fast pitch softball, cross country, soccer, cheerleading and dance. The boys have football, basketball, powerlifting, soccer, track, swimming, golf, tennis and cross country. Powerlifting is offered for girls but had no participants.

At East Side, the sports girls competed in this year were basketball, cross country, cheerleading, track, tennis and fastpitch softball. Girls were offered golf, powerlifting and swimming but had no participants.

The boys at East Side competed in powerlifting, baseball, basketball, track, swimming, tennis and cross country. Golf was offered for boys but had no participants.

Thigpen said the ultimate goal of the school district is to make sure all athletes are on an even playing field.

“The goal of the CSD is to provide equal opportunities for all of its students and to encourage participation for both boys and girls in athletics and activities,” Thigpen said. “The CSD works hard to make sure all of its students have a well-rounded school experience. The CSD is continually trying to improve those opportunities. For example, the CSD offered a new girls sport - volleyball - at CHS for the first time in the 2013-2014 school year and it will be offered at ESHS this coming school year.”

Thigpen said the OCR has not released any findings, and indicated that it might be months before they release any findings.