FCPS Enters into Resolution Agreement Regarding Softball Facilities at Sherando
Frederick County Public Schools has voluntarily entered into a Resolution Agreement with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) and plans to take steps to provide practice and competitive fields for the junior varsity and varsity softball teams that are equivalent to the field it provides for Sherando’s junior varsity and varsity baseball teams. The Resolution Agreement was developed following an investigation by the OCR to determine whether the school division discriminated against female athletes by failing to provide them with a softball field on Sherando High School’s campus.
Since Sherando High School opened in 1993, the school’s softball teams have utilized facilities in neighboring Sherando Park for practices and games. The Frederick County Parks and Recreation Department operates and manages the fields at Sherando Park, which are less than a mile from Sherando High School.
Under the Resolution Agreement, the school division will have to take a number of actions by February 1, 2019, including:
- Provide a scoreboard to the softball teams similar in size and composition to the one used by the baseball teams.
- Provide a press box, public address system and announcer at softball games.
- Provide an arc on the varsity softball field 200 feet from home plate and use an additional umpire to monitor the arc for the purpose of noting a home run during home varsity softball games.
- Provide a backstop for the junior varsity softball team that is comparable in size and condition to the one used by the junior varsity baseball team.
- Provide bullpens at the varsity softball field that are comparable in size and condition to the ones used by the baseball team to provide adequate space for pitchers to warmup during games.
- Ensure the softball fields receive equivalent maintenance and preparation as the baseball field.
- Inform the Sherando Warrior Club, the softball teams and the parents of softball players of the availability and opportunity to use the softball fields’ concession facilities and all related information so that the softball teams have the same opportunity to sell concessions as the baseball teams.
The OCR notified Frederick County Public Schools in June 2016 that it had received a Title IX complaint involving the school’s athletic facilities. Title IX is a federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in school programs and activities. Entering into the Resolution Agreement doesn’t constitute an admission by the school division of a violation of Title IX or any other law enforced by OCR.
Throughout the entire OCR review process, the school division fully cooperated with OCR staff and provided a great deal of information about the athletic programs and facilities at Sherando High School. The OCR conducted an on-site investigation and review in October 2016, during which the school division learned for the first time that the complaint was about its softball facilities. The on-site review provided the OCR with the opportunity to view Sherando’s athletic facilities and to interview school staff, coaches and student-athletes.
Schools Superintendent David Sovine says, “During the site visit, OCR staff commented on the high-quality facilities provided to all student-athletes at Sherando, including the softball fields at Sherando Park. We noted that softball is among five of the school’s 22 athletic teams that practice off campus and one of four who compete on fields located off campus. When Sherando was built, the school division simply didn’t have enough space on the school’s 40-acre site to build all of the needed athletic fields and practice facilities on campus. Due to the lack of space and fiscal constraints, the School Board and the Frederick County Parks and Recreation Department entered into a Cooperative Use Agreement that governs the shared use of each entity’s facilities. The agreement has allowed Sherando to offer more opportunities to all of its students in spite of its small campus. The softball fields at Sherando Park meet all National Federation of State High School Associations and Virginia High School League requirements and have served Sherando’s softball teams well for more than 20 years.”
Before the OCR investigation began, the school division was already closely working with the Frederick County Parks and Recreation Department to install new infrastructure at the softball field at Sherando Park that is utilized by Sherando’s softball program. The changes being planned included the addition of an electronic scoreboard, batting cages, bullpens and other improvements.
Sovine says, “Although the school division has entered into a Resolution Agreement and is committed to taking all of the actions outlined in it by the February 2019 deadline, we maintain that the alleged Title IX violation did not occur. Our school division takes its responsibilities very seriously, including its responsibility to provide equal athletic opportunities. Constructing a softball facility on Sherando’s campus to establish consistency among our high schools has been on the School Board’s Capital Improvement Plan since 2010. As plans are developed to possibly construct a softball field on campus in the future, we will have to consider the plans to widen and improve Route 277 as well as other development that may occur in the area that could present opportunities to acquire additional property for a softball field and other improvements on Sherando’s campus that have not yet been considered due to current space limitations.”