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Booster subcommittee seeks legal help to ensure compliance with Title IX

At the School Committee’s meeting this week, its members heard an update from their policy subcommittee, which is considering a revised policy on financial support from outside groups that contribute to school athletic programs. The board wants to ensure equity and legal compliance in handling those funds.

The roots of the concern with equity go back—at least in part—to the loss of the softball field when construction began on the new elementary school. That event, followed by the failed effort to provide a replacement field on Ann Lees Road for the 2019 softball season, set up a situation in which a girls’ sport (softball) lacked a home field, while a comparable boys’ sport (baseball) had three fields. Moreover, the baseball team benefitted from a dedicated booster group, which the softball team did not. That situation was a possible violation of Title IX, the 1972 federal law prohibiting gender discrimination in school programs and activities.

Initially, the subcommittee planned to revise its policy for all funding groups—not just athletic groups, but also organizations such as the PTO, Harvard Schools Trust, Fanfare, and Celebration. That idea produced a lot of pushback, subcommittee members acknowledged.

However, at a meeting Monday morning, the subcommittee decided to exempt those groups from any new policy. One reason was that their donations are already officially approved by the School Committee when it accepts them; another reason was that those funds generally serve the school as a whole, which is already covered by a different School Committee policy on public gifts.

With its focus back on athletic issues where the issue first arose, the subcommittee agreed it needed a legal review of the athletic program from a Title IX consultant, said Shannon Molloy, who chairs the subcommittee. The group had obtained one proposal for $17,500 from a California firm that specializes in gender equity in athletic programs. School Superintendent Linda Dwight said she would look into other consulting groups that might be both less expensive and more local.

If a full program review can be done this summer, Molloy said, the committee would wait for its completion and return to work on developing a new policy in the fall.

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