Pekin Community High School Superintendent Danielle Owens said she and the District 303 Board are pleased with the outcome of complaints filed by a teacher with the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights.
“Allegations related to providing comparable facilities, equipment and supplies were dismissed upon completion of upgrades that were underway at the time the complaints were filed,” said Owens. “Allegations of ineffectively accommodating female students’ interests and abilities and retaliation against the complaining employee were determined to be unfounded by OCR.”
The district signed an agreement with OCR regarding the Title IX complaints that were filed in 2015. The district agreed to adopt policies providing for the equitable treatment of athletes with regard to travel benefits, publicity of athletic programs and booster club benefits, all of which have been addressed, said Owens.
The OCR did not impose any fines on the district.
Owens said the district is better for going through the process.
“I definitely think it caused us to take a hard look at why we do things that we’ve always done and made us explore things that we maybe could or should do differently,” said Owens. “And I think, whether you are forced to do that or you chose to do that on your own, it tends to give you a better product in the end. I think the things that we put into place and the changes that we made are going to benefit all of the athletes and there’s nothing negative about that.”
There was one aspect of the allegations that frustrated Owens. She became superintendent just prior to the filling of the complaint
“It didn’t need to take a complaint” to address the issues raised, she said. “A lot of what was already in the complaint was already being addressed.
“The main issue was the softball field and it was already in progress when the complaint was made. I don’t think it took another outside agency to come in and put us kind of in a spotlight to do those things. That’s my only issue with it, but after two years now I can honestly say that our athletic programs will be stronger for it and we definitely confronted some things that we’ve always done that we knew we needed to change.
“Honestly, it helped the students out, because as a first year superintendent, I don’t know if I would have taken the time to make the changes immediately,” she said.
Several changes have been made over the past two years, including the new girls softball field and athletic and gym locker room renovations that were already planned prior to the complaint. The district this year will have all athletes under one booster club to make sure all are treated equitably when it comes to funding for equipment, travel, meals and hotel rooms.
“We’ve updated some policies and procedures of how we’re going to do things, and to be honest with you, in my view, the fact that we have one booster club instead of nine separate ones is probably the biggest win of all of it,” said Owens. “We’re going to finally have a booster club that represents and supports all athletes, not just certain sports that have parents who are involved, and I think that is important.
“I probably never thought I would say that two years ago, but I’m excited about what it’s brought about.”
Follow Sharon Woods Harris at Twitter.com/sharrispekin