Winona Senior High struggles with gender equity issues

Winona Senior High struggles with gender equity issues

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When Winona Senior High School physical education teacher Cathy Solem went to school, girls weren't treated the same as boys.

Girls didn't play many sports because coaches didn't want them to get too tired, Solem said.

Times have changed.

A 1975 law began to level the field for boys and girls. Title IX requires any educational program receiving federal funding not to discriminate based on gender. That means equal opportunity for males and females to play sports.

Winona Senior High has come a long way since then. But while girls and guys have equal opportunity to participate in sports, their athletic facilities are far from equal.

Case in point: On the softball field where girls play, the bleaches are worn wood. On the boys' baseball field they are new aluminum.

The baseball field has concrete dugouts and a press box for reporters and announcers. The softball field has a covered bench for players and an old desk shoved to the side of a storage shed.

Administrators said they're aware of the issues, but a lack of funding has stopped the district from completely renovating locker rooms and storage and office spaces in a school that was built before Title IX. The district has expanded and renovated to meet gender equity standards, but it would require immense renovation to create equity.

At least one administrator said the school complies with the law.

Others are concerned the school is not, saying the district should fix problems in order to truly be fair.

Inequities

Coach and teacher Tom Sanvik sees a gap between girls' and boys' athletic facilities.

"There's definitely inequities," he said from his office. Sanvik is a boys' physical education teacher, and has coached hockey and girls and boys tennis. "Plain and simple. They're not the same."

The boys' lockers are at least a foot taller than the girls' lockers, and they are wider. Next to the boys coaches' office, there is a room with mirrors, a TV, tables, desks and a dozen lockers. Technically anyone can use it, but girls don't have easy access to the suite and don't use it.

Solem, who has worked for the district 35 years, said the boys seem to have "more and more and more," while the girls have "less and less and less."

Girls also lost storage space and lockers they never got back, she said. About three years ago the state fire marshal told the district to move lockers and office space out of what is now a hallway on the second floor. That displaced more than 30 lockers and storage space, Solem said.

A walk through the girls coaches and physical education teachers' office reveals limited storage space. Uniforms are kept in boxes underneath office desks. And the only shower is a mess of tennis rackets, basketball and other equipment.

For the guys, the coaches' office is much larger; showers are usable; and there is at least twice the storage room for equipment and uniforms.

Solem wonders why the district has proceeded with other construction projects while athletic facilities have been ignored.

Maggie Lambert is a former physical education teacher and pioneer of girls sports in Winona. She came to the district in the fall of 1969, just two years after the high school was built and before Title IX.

"There was no need for large lockers. There was no need to have storage for girls' volleyball equipment, girls' basketball equipment," she said.

The district has made efforts to create equality in a structurally unequal building. But Lambert doubts whether complete equality is possible.

"Structurally, I'm not sure it's even possible to duplicate the same square footage," she said.

Compliance

The district has tried to comply with the law. They've expanded, adding showers and lockers. They've renovated.

But because the boys locker rooms are next to the gym on the first floor, and the girls are housed on the second floor, expanding and renovating to create equality would mean a total overhaul of the school's structure, Lambert said.

Solutions to the issue are possible, she said, but taxpayer dollars and resources are scarce, she said.

"You're working with something that is innately unequal to start with," Lambert said. "It's difficult to create equal."

Activities Director Mark Winter said he and other administrators are aware of the issues. One of the reasons it hasn't been addressed is it would be "extremely expensive."

"If there were any quick, easy fixes, we would have already done them," Winter said.

The lockers alone could cost more than $200,000, according to a 2005 study of the high school building that indicated both boys and girls athletic lockers are in "poor condition" and need to be replaced.

Although there are problems, Winter said he believes the high school is in compliance with the law.

The law states that schools must not only offer male and female students equal opportunities to play sports, but also treat them equally. That means there must be similar quality equipment and supplies, equitable game and practice schedules, similar financial support, fairness in assigning and paying coaches, and comparable locker rooms and fields.

Schools don't have to provide the same benefits to each team; the law generally says treatment must be equal overall and each group's needs should be met.

According to a document distributed by the school district in 2005, the law is enforced through parent complaints and federal compliance reviews.

High school Principal John Phelps said he hasn't heard of any gender equity issues until he was contacted by the Daily News for this story. He started his new job this summer.

He said he's looking into the situation. "If there's a wrong, I want to right wrongs," he said.

More than likely solving these problems means renovating, Phelps said. But he's concerned about costs.

"We can do what we can," he said.

What is Title IX?

A federal law passed in 1975 that protects staff and students at K-12 public schools and colleges against gender discrimination.

It covers all activities and education programs that receive federal funding, though it's often associated with athletics.

li>i>The National Women's Law Center has developed A Basic Guide to Title IX. To view the pdf version a href"http://www.winonadailynews.com/pdfs/basicguidetitleix.pdf" target"_blank">click here/a>./i>/li>

Britt Johnsen can be reached at (507) 453-3519 or bjohnsen@winonadailynews.com.

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