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Area schools subject of Title IX investigations

Elmbrook among districts named

Feb. 14, 2012

The Elmbrook School District is among the five school districts named as subjects of a federal investigation into alleged discrimination against female high school student athletes.

A letter from the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights in Chicago obtained by Lake Country Publications, a sister company to NOW Newspapers, indicates that someone has alleged sex-based discrimination has taken place in the Kettle Moraine, Mukwonago, Oconomowoc, Waukesha and Elmbrook school districts - and that the OCR will proceed with an investigation.

The complaints were filed with the OCR on Dec. 12, but it has not yet been revealed what specifically the allegations are.

A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, D.C., told a reporter Monday that department policy prohibits him from discussing the details of its investigations. He instead referenced the letter, which includes this statement: "Specifically, (the complainant) alleged that each of the aforementioned school districts discriminates against female high school student athletes on the basis of sex by failing to effectively accommodate the athletic interests and abilities of members of both sexes with respect to the opportunity to participate in interscholastic athletics."

Lake Country Publications has filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act seeking copies of the complaints.

Districts' reaction

"I will be having our counsel looking at this, but we have not yet reviewed the letter," Elmbrook Superintendent Matt Gibson said.

Mukwonago Area School District Superintendent Paul Strobel said his district received a letter from the OCR late last week, but he was still unsure as to the nature of the alleged discrimination.

"We still don't know exactly if it's a facility complaint or if it's a team kind of complaint, so that's what we're trying to find out, and that's where we're at," Strobel said Monday.

"They haven't told us."

The letter from the OCR describes a process known as Early Complaint Resolution, which facilitates the voluntary resolution of complaints by providing an early opportunity for parties involved to resolve the allegations.

Strobel said his school district would work to participate in that process.

The OCR is responsible for enforcing Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 - legislation that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any education program or activity operated by a recipient of federal financial assistance.

The letter states, "Because OCR has determined that it has jurisdiction and that the complaints were filed timely, it is opening the allegations for investigation. Please note that opening the allegations for investigation in no way implies that OCR has made a determination with regard to their merits."

The letter from the OCR caught Kettle Moraine Superintendent Pat Deklotz off guard.

"Well, we did receive the notice of investigation, and we are certainly cooperating with that investigation," she said. "We believe that all of our programs are in compliance with the law."

The Oconomowoc School District referred any comment on the matter to Superintendent Pat Neudecker, who was out of the office and did not respond to a message left for her before press time. A call to Waukesha School District Superintendent Todd Gray was not returned.

Previous Title IX complaints

The recent allegations against the five school districts are not the first for the area. The Arrowhead Union High School District faced Title IX complaints in 2006, when it was alleged that the girls field hockey program did not receive the same resources as boys sports teams at Arrowhead. Ultimately, the investigation concluded that improvements to the girls field hockey and softball fields would settle the complaint.

A second complaint against Arrowhead in 2009 led the district to fund a girls field hockey program and an alpine skiing program for girls.

The OCR describes itself as a "neutral fact-finder, collecting and analyzing relevant evidence from the complainant, the recipients and other sources as appropriate."

A complaint can be resolved before the conclusion of an investigation if the recipient resolves any issues.

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