The Butte School Board voted to ask federal officials investigating allegations that it is discriminating against girls with subpar softball facilities to hammer out an agreement to settle the claims.
Board members in a 6-0 vote on Monday agreed to ask the U.S. Office for Civil Rights to craft a voluntary resolution agreement that would lay out improvements needed to its softball fields. The move if approved by OCR would take the complainants who have pushed the issue for nearly a year out of the negotiations, said Pat Fleming, a Butte lawyer representing Butte schools.
“Now we have to deal with OCR, not the complainants,” he said. “The complainants are like anybody else — they can comment — but they don’t drive the discussion.”
Unequal playing fields
Two former assistant softball coaches — Sid DeBarathy and Mike Foley — filed the complaint last year with federal officials. They contend Butte has offered girls lousy softball fields and facilities off the high school campus at Stodden Park, while spending more than $1 million on the renovation of Naranche Stadium.
That constitutes a violation of Title IX, a 1972 federal law that guarantees girls equal access to sports facilities and programs at public schools and colleges, DeBarathy has contended.
He and Foley for months negotiated with the district through mediation in an effort to settle the case by laying out what they believe the fields at Stodden Park needed. But in August those talks broke down.
DeBarathy in a telephone interview Monday said while there were some improvements both sides could agree on, there were others the district rejected.
“We just didn’t feel that they were willing to do enough things,” he said. “A lot of things needed to be done.”
Some improvements are well under way.
The two Stodden fields are getting new infields, new dugouts were built and a water line was run to the restrooms, Fleming said. Those are the result of a partnership with Butte-Silver Bow in which the school district pays for the materials and the county covers the labor.
But DeBarathy said while those are appreciated, the district didn’t listen to several suggestions that were important. The dugouts weren’t dug deep enough to fit the players, coaches and equipment. The district still didn’t build an announcer’s box. And the infield, while improved, didn’t follow the specifications of materials that are standard for a softball field.
“If you go down there and put your foot on it, it’s like putting it on a sack of flour,” he said. “There’s no clay in it and they didn’t water it down and roll it.”
DeBarathy said at this point he’s not talking to the district and he doesn’t want to give up the right to work through OCR to get better facilities for the girls.
Judy Jonart, Butte superintendent, said the request is the first step for the district to develop a plan that will be acceptable to OCR. She said just an agreement would give the district a clear path to make the needed changes.
“It will not constitute an admission of guilt by the district,” she said. “This is probably a win-win situation for us if we can get them to go into a voluntary resolution agreement.”
Reporter Nick Gevock may be reached at nick.gevock@