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Hess v. Ramona Unified School Dist

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA


September 13, 2007

KAREN R. HESS, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
RAMONA UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT, ET AL. DEFENDANTS.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Cathy Ann Bencivengo United States Magistrate Judge

MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S RELIEF RECOMMENDATION REGARDING IMPLEMENTATION OF INJUNCTIVE

The undersigned, after consultation with the parties and review of numerous proposals, issues the following Recommendation regarding the implementation of injunctive relief in this case. The parties will submit their comments on the Recommendation separately.

BACKGROUND

On July 26, 2007, the Court granted Plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction. United States District Judge Thomas Whelan found that Plaintiffs established a likelihood of success on the merits of their Title IX claim against Defendant, the Ramona Unified School District ("the District"). The injunction requires that the District provide facilities for the Ramona High School Girls' Softball teams on the Ramona High School campus of equal quality to that of the fields the Ramona High School Boys' Baseball teams have on campus.

Specifically, the Court required the District provide the Softball teams with facilities that give the girls' teams the same benefits the boys' teams have enjoyed for years, including access to locker rooms, medical and training services, and playing fields of equal quality starting with the 2008 season. The Court ordered the parties work together in good faith to arrive at a plan to remedy the situation and submit a joint proposal, or separate proposals as necessary, to the Court by September 14, 2007.

The parties enlisted the assistance of the undersigned Magistrate Judge to mediate the process of generating a joint proposal. Both parties participated in good faith. A number of plans and alternatives were generated, recognizing certain physical space limitations and other constraints. As part of the process, the undersigned met with the parties at Ramona High School on August 24, 2007, for an on-site evaluation of the alternative proposals. It was the goal of the parties, and the undersigned, to formulate a plan that complies with the Court's order, provides for the District's competing needs for use of the campus land, creates a safe environment for the student athletes and spectators, and offers a long-term solution.

DISCUSSION

Proposal One

The first proposal was to construct three new playing fields on the campus grounds immediately north of the high school buildings and east of the dedicated Boys' Varsity Baseball field. This plan would provide a new dedicated field for the Varsity Girls' Softball team, equivalent to the Varsity Boys' Baseball field*fn1 on the site of the current JV/Freshman Boys' Baseball field, oriented however in the same direction as the Varsity Baseball field.*fn2 A new JV/Freshman Boys' Baseball field and a new JV/Freshman Girls' Softball field would be constructed in the remaining open area. The plan contemplated both the JV/Freshman fields being constructed in a manner and orientation that would allow the land to be used by other athletic teams and physical education classes when not in use by the softball and baseball teams. During the site inspection, it became apparent that this configuration, although feasible on paper, posed numerous safety issues as the fields would be very close together with the potential for long-hit or foul balls encroaching on school grounds and other playing fields endangering players, students and spectators. Also the proposed orientation of the Boys' JV/Freshman Baseball field, designed to preserve open space, raised concerns about visual interference by the sun causing a danger for players.

Proposal Two

The second proposal was to construct the dedicated Girls' Varsity Softball field on the site of the Boys' JV/Freshman Baseball field, identical to Proposal One. A new JV/Freshman Baseball field would be constructed to the east of the new Girl's Varsity field, also identical to Proposal One. The alternative was to renovate the field on the neighboring Olive Pierce Middle School Campus ("OPMS field") for the JV/Freshman Softball teams to use. The OPMS field, although not on the High School campus, is a short walk from the high school locker facilities and medical service center (less than 5 minutes). This proposal alleviated some of the safety concerns of crowding the three new fields onto the available high school campus land, but not entirely. There were still safety concerns regarding the orientation of the proposed new JV/Freshman Baseball field. As with Proposal One, in order to preserve open land, the field orientation has sun interference issues as well as the potential for long-hit and foul balls encroaching on school grounds.

Proposal Three

The District proposed a third alternative - to construct a dedicated Girls' Softball field on the site of the current JV/Freshman Baseball field, with no additional field construction. The Boys' Varsity, JV, and Freshman Baseball teams would share the current dedicated Boys' Varsity Baseball field. The Girls' Varsity and JV Softball teams*fn3 would share the new dedicated Girls' Varsity Softball field.

This proposal contemplates constructing the new Softball field on the existing JV Baseball field using the same orientation of the existing field. The District represents that renovation of the existing field from a baseball to softball field and adding the required amenities would not require approval from the Division of State Architects and would therefore save valuable time allowing completion of the project by the start of the 2008 season. It would also save District resources that could be used in the future for field construction should other land (the 40 acres) become available, and preserve existing open land for other athletic teams and physical educations needs.

The proposed orientation for the Girls' Varsity field in Proposal Three is not the optimal layout for the dedicated Girls' Softball field, described in Proposal One. Further, Plaintiffs expressed concern that the proposed plan to rotate use of the fields by Varsity, JV, and Freshmen teams is not feasible. Plaintiffs contend that a program requiring shared facilities will disadvantage the Girls' Softball program and Boys' Freshmen Baseball.

Proposal Four

The Plaintiffs in response to Proposal Three, offered a fourth proposal. First, the Plaintiffs do not want to compromise on the construction of the new dedicated Girls' Varsity Softball field. Consequently, Plaintiffs state they are willing to use alternate accommodations if construction of the new dedicated field is not completed by February 2008, the start of the softball season, rather than adopt Proposal Three's plan to renovate the existing Boys' JV Baseball field.

Plaintiffs contend that the Girls' Softball program operates in such a manner that Proposal Three's plan for the Girls' Varsity and JV Softball teams to share a playing/practice field is impracticable, if not impossible. Consequently, the Plaintiffs propose that the District go forward with the renovation of the neighboring OPMS field for the Girls' JV Softball team to use. (Further, the Varsity team is willing to use that location until the dedicated Varsity Softball field on the high school campus is completed.)

Plaintiffs are also concerned that Proposal Three, requiring the Boys' Varsity, JV, and Freshman Baseball teams share the dedicated Boys' Varsity Baseball field, will hurt the Freshman baseball program. Although it appears feasible for the Boys' Varsity and JV teams to share a field, with perhaps some minor inconvenience, the Plaintiffs believe it will severely disadvantage the Boys' Freshman Baseball program. Consequently, Proposal Four contemplates the current Boys' JV/Freshman Baseball field remain in place, and the new dedicated Girls' Varsity Softball field be constructed to the east of that existing field in the optimal orientation.

Proposal Four provides the Girls' Varsity Softball team with a dedicated field on campus equal in all ways to that of the Boys' Varsity Baseball field. The Girls' JV Softball team will get a renovated field within a short walking distance of the high school athletic amenities. The Boys' JV/Freshmen Baseball teams will not be disadvantaged by the construction of fields for the Girls' Softball program.

Adoption of this plan, however, would impair the District's ability to accommodate other athletic programs and the physical education program. Construction of the dedicated Girls' Varsity Softball field directly to the east of the existing Boys' JV/Freshman field, oriented with home plate located in the southwest corner, places permanent structures (fencing, dugouts, etc.) in the middle of what is now open space used by other athletic teams and the high school physical education program. This would render the remaining open space of extremely limited value even when softball is not in season.

RECOMMENDATION

Time constraints, space limitations and competing interests do not allow the District to construct the perfect solution to this problem. The Court has ordered the District to remedy the disparity in treatment the Girls' Softball Program has endured for some years, before the start of the 2008 season. It does not, however, seem to be in the best interests of the softball program to compromise the construction and layout of this long-anticipated, dedicated Girls' Varsity Softball field, simply to meet the 2008 season start. Best efforts should be employed to have a field ready for the season opener, but in the long-term interests of the program, building it right is more important than building it fast. Additionally, construction of the new fields should not be at the sacrifice of other Ramona High school athletic and physical education programs.

Consequently, it is the recommendation of the undersigned that the Court adopt the following plan to implement the injunctive relief ordered by the Court:

The District construct a dedicated Girls' Varsity Softball field, in the current location of the Boys' JV/Freshman Baseball field, oriented in the same direction as the dedicated Boys' Varsity Baseball field and with all the comparable amenities as the Boys' Varsity Baseball field. Said construction to be completed as soon as possible. Varsity Girls' Softball will be played on the OPMS field until the dedicated field is completed.

The District renovate the OPMS field, resolving the drainage, grading and irrigation problems, and install a Girls' Softball field, with at least one batting cage, at that location for the Girls' JV/Freshman Softball program. Said renovation to be completed by February 2008.

The Boys' Varsity and JV Baseball teams share the dedicated Boys' Varsity Baseball field until such time as the District can construct a new JV field on the 40 acres held by the District. At the option of the District, it may proceed with its plan to rotate the Boys' Freshman Baseball Team into the shared program with Varsity and JV. Alternatively, the District may find other accommodations for the Boys' Freshman Baseball team, which may include construction of a non-dedicated field in the northeast corner of the campus property or off-site accommodations until additional fields can be constructed.

The District provide a timeline for completion of the project and monthly reports to Plaintiffs and the undersigned, so construction progress can be monitored and any issues addressed expediently.


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