The Seaside School District launched the first phase of a project to upgrade softball facilities in response to an agreement with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

The school district has until the end of June 2023 to build the facility and provide more equity between girls and boys athletics.

It’s been an ongoing issue since before she arrived in the school district, Susan Penrod, the school superintendent, said. “We’re excited to complete this project, with, of course, our top priority being to provide a wonderful softball complex for our athletes, in addition to meeting our deadlines with the Office of Civil Rights,” she said.

The first phase, which was approved during the December school board meeting, involves working with Brian Hardebeck, a senior project manager at DAY CPM, to coordinate and complete the project. Hardebeck was part of the team that worked on construction of the new school campus, so the school district is extending his contract for the softball complex, Penrod said. ZCS Engineering & Architecture will assist with the design.

The engineering team is reviewing a number of potential locations for the upgraded facility and trying to determine which one will best meet the requirements of the agreement, which is meant to remedy disparities between the practice and playing fields of the female athletes compared to their male counterparts.

The noticeable differences between the baseball and softball diamonds at Broadway Field create potential violations of Title IX, the federal law meant to protect against discrimination in education.

In 2012, Seaside parents Randy Anderson and John Nicolazzi filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging the school district failed to permit girls from participating equally with boys.

The lawsuit claimed that female students didn’t have comparable athletic facilities as the boys, that they were unable to participate in team sports and that they had been excluded from the high school’s athletic program. That case was dismissed after a settlement in 2014. Terms of the settlement were never publicly released, but the school district responded by adding lights and building a softball diamond at Broadway Field.

Dissatisfied with conditions at the softball field, Anderson filed a civil rights complaint in March 2019. The Office for Civil Rights followed up, concluding that the softball field, as compared to the baseball field, could result in the denial of equal opportunity to female athletes.

At the January school board meeting, Penrod said, the team will bring a recommendation regarding the preferred site for the board to approve. They’ll also present an outline for the other phases in the three-phase project. From there, they can start the design process.

“I’m extremely happy for the Seaside High School female softball players, finally getting the proper playing facility and the recognition as valued student-athletes of the district, something they have been denied by the district administration for many years,” Anderson said. “It’s too bad that it took an OCR complaint, which validated the inequality, for the district to finally see their discriminating ways. I will be following this closely.”

Penrod said she would like to see the facility finished by the beginning of the softball season in 2023 if possible.

“I have said, ‘If there is any way you can have it done by February or March, so they could have the new field to play on, that would be wonderful,’” she said.

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