BALTIMORE – Four days after the Liberty Union-Thurston Board of Education unanimously agreed not change its policy that girls can not participate in football and wrestling, the district reversed itself after being threatened with legal action by the American Civil Liberties Union.
The question whether seventh grader Makx Jenkins could play football was discussed publicly and in a closed executive session at the board’s August 12 meeting. Her mother, Angela Jenkins, raised the issue during the public comment portion of the meeting. She said Makx had played with the same boys the last two years and had earned the respect of her coaches and teammates.
“She went through all the motions and then the next day they took it all away,” she said. “Please don’t mash her dreams.”
One of her former teachers, Tabitha McCarthy, at the meeting said, “She (Makx) is so strong. She isn’t afraid to stand out.”
Superintendent Paul Mathews said school officials had only learned of the situation a week earlier. Pre-seventh grade football is not affiliated with the district. Mathews said it’s up to the district to set participation standards for contact sports which the district considers to be football and wrestling.
“We meet the Title 9 requirements for sports,” he explained. “It’s been a long standing process that we haven’t included girls in contact sports.”
Board member John Hutton raised the issue of injuries. “Those kids are going to be bigger than your daughter,” he said. Board member and physician John Walter added, “My concern is the potential for injuries. The effects of concussions are life long. Bodies mature differently.’
Mathews said the district started out with coed soccer and then divided them when they could. “It is not a personal thing,” he said. “The issue is the appropriateness of girls participating in contact sports.” He added that neither the athletic director nor any of the coaches had recommended a change in the policy.
After a 20-minute closed session, President Mike Raver reported that it was the board’s unanimous decision not change its policy.
A warning to the district from the ACLU that it believes the decision to be “unlawful” prompted the reversal. The Ohio High School Athletic Association reportedly also urged the district to reconsider.
Mathews issued the following statement Aug. 16:
“Regarding the participation of female athletes in contact sports at Liberty Union-Thurston:
The Liberty Union-Thurston Local School District provides equal opportunity for both boys and girls to participate in extracurricular programs, and complies with Title IX requirements. Federal mandates provide local school boards the authority to make determinations regarding female student participation in contact sports, such as football. Our position on this issue has been made clear. However, we are also adamant that local tax dollars will not be wasted. We have no intent of competing with the deep pockets of the ACLU in any litigation situation in order to secure a favorable judgment. Therefore, we will allow female participation in contact sports.”
In other business, Aug. 12, Mathews said there will be three points for students to cross Ohio 158 when the Safe Routes to School project is complete;
• At Creekview Drive;
• At Dollar General to the sidewalk along the north boundary of the elementary/middle school complex; and
• At Elmwood Avenue.
Cross walk warning signs will be bolted to the roadway at all three crossings. Students will also receive street safety training, Mathews said. “We want people (drivers) to be very careful in a few places.”
He expressed disappointment that none of the new eastside sidewalks had been poured. All students will continue to be bussed until the project is complete. Then middle school students living nearby will be expected to walk or bicycle to school. Bus routes for students living in the village will run only the main routes – Ohio 158 and Ohio 256. “That worked very well last year,” Mathews said.
Board members held two special meetings in July – July 15 and July 25. A contract with the Village of Baltimore to provide a school resource officer and a school safety officer was unanimously approved. Officer Jason Harget returns as the resource officer providing D.A.R.E. instruction and resource officer services primarily at the high school. The village and a D.A.R.E. grant provide more than $50,000 for the position, leaving the district to pick up about $12,000. The safety officer will primarily cover the elementary/middle school complex on a contract basis at an approximate $25,000 cost for the school year.
The following candidates for employment were approved:’
• Elizabeth VanSchepen as kindergarten teacher;
• Katherine Beverly as a high school English/language arts teacher;
• James Day as part-time high school information technology; and
• Jeff Dupler as school nurse.
Supplemental contracts approved recently include:
• James Day- high school yearbook;
• Ethan Hayek-JV Volleyball;
• John Putnam-high school football volunteer;
• Jennifer Cooley -cheerleading volunteer;
•Angela Landis -cheerleading volunteer; and
• KrystaWhite-7th Grade Volleyball.
The board’s next regular meeting is set for 7 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 9, in the district office behind the elementary school.