A couple weeks ago, news broke that the Montgomery County school district is under federal investigation for Title IX violations. No one is surprised with superintendent Joshua Powell at the helm, we know.
But what is surprising? We’ve tracked the leak of the investigation to Powell’s inner circle, based on emails sent from Phil Rison, Powell’s deputy.
What we mean: Powell pushed this Title IX investigation story to the local paper so he could spin things in his favor. Unfortunately, that’s not the way the world works when it comes to stewards of our taxpayer dollars who are caught in scandal after scandal.
The details: An Office for Civil Rights complaint was filed in July 2013 after district officials and the board of education refused to take action to stop discrimination on the basis of gender when it comes to student athletes. We’ve spoken to individuals involved with the complaint, parents and two board members. This is not an issue stemming from a single disgruntled individual.
There were two areas of concern:
- There are two weight rooms. One adjacent to “The Barn” gymnasium that’s part of the high school building. A second facility is in the field house by the football field that’s separate from the main school building. Boys got to use the field house, which is well-maintained, has functional and safe equipment. Girls had to use the other facility, complete with unsafe and inadequate equipment.
- Montgomery County stopped offering weight training classes to girls during the school day but continued to offer classes for boys. The teacher who taught the class told quite a few parents (some who are friends with Powell, no less) – long after informing administrators – that they could no longer teach the course because the facility was unsafe. Instead of holding the class in the field house, it was just cancelled.
So the OCR is investigating the allocation of medical (athletic training) facilities and personnel (availability of the athletic trainer for girls vs. boys teams).
Note: In one email sent to athletic staff on December 2, Rison (who is also an assistant athletics director for some reason) directed all coaches to provide him with confirmation of the scheduled time for their OCR telephone interviews. He mentioned that arrangements were to be made with their immediate supervisors. Which says to us the district not only wanted to listen in on the interviews but intimidated staff with their supervisors. Once coaches complained to the OCR, those interviews were cancelled, with Rison telling them via email that they no longer had to participate.
Roughly two years ago, the athletic director (not Rison) commissioned a plan to renovate the facility for girls with a goal of remedying the inadequacy of the space and the obvious safety concerns. In late November 2011, the plan was presented to the board during a working session. It was shot down because, well, it’s Montgomery County. Specifically, the board would have supported the plan 3-2 but Joshua Powell killed it. All because he had a beef with the two members voting against him. Which suggests he’s knowingly allowed gender discrimination to occur for more than two years.
Now that $100,000(ish) plan seems like a relative drop in the bucket.
Back to August 2013. When the district received the OCR letter asking questions and requiring documentation, two female students were quickly placed into classes with the boys.
So when the district responded to the OCR, the claim was made that any girl was able to sign up and participate in classes for boys. But that wasn’t the least bit based in reality. According to several unconnected parents, their daughters weren’t permitted to participate with boys and were not provided a class equivalent to what boys received.
The district also claimed that in the past three years only a few girls had attempted to sign up for a weight training class. But each year the class was offered (2011-2012 and 2012-2013), it was full with about 20 girls.
Let’s take a look at some excerpts from the Mt. Sterling Advocate story that was begun by Powell & Crew:
Phil Rison, the district’s assistant athletic director and assistant superintendent, said the athletic dept. is willing to work out whatever arrangements are needed to resolve the complaint.
He said he regrets the matter had to com to an Office for Civil Rights complaint.
“We would have loved to have had the opportunity to sit down and have dialogue,” Rison said. “If someone’s upset, you don’t know what you don’t know.”
The complaint alleges that the district discriminates against female students by not providing a comparable class than that offered for male students.
“We’ve provided evidence that we do provide that since the inception of the class,” Rison said.
“We always work very diligently with OCR to resolve those,” he said.
Rison said he had not been approached previously about this particular complaint and was surprised to learn of it considering the district has passed a Title IX audit by the Kentucky High School Athletic Association (KHSAA) every year for the past 15 years.
“Our school district’s going to always do what’s fair and equitable for all of our students,” Rison said.
Since you’re likely aware that Rison’s responses are bogus, there’s no need to rip his words apart. Other than: the district got caught, the district refused to work with the complainant(s), Rison was previously approached and directly involved, the district doesn’t offer the same to girls. Ignoring all of that – it doesn’t help matters that board members have been pressing Powell and Rison to correct problems to avoid an OCR investigation for quite some time.
Interesting note: Montgomery County’s been the focus of previous OCR investigations. A big one? There wasn’t enough space provided in the new basketball gymnasium for people in wheelchairs.
Because most readers likely aren’t familiar with what everything in Montgomery County looks like, we thought it’d be a good idea to give you a photographic tour of athletic facilities. During our poking around, it was made clear that Powell goes to great lengths to project an unblemished image to the general public. Just take a look at some photos to see what we mean:
ARENA TRAINING ROOM
ARENA TRAINING ROOM
That’s what the public sees.
Due to photo intensity, you’ll need to view a comparison of boys and girls facilities after the jump…
Now let’s take a look at facilities provided for boys:
Facilities for girls:
See the difference?
Ignoring all of the allegations, just comparing the facilities offered to boys and girls is enough to seal the deal.
Yet another reason Montgomery County Schools can’t have nice things.