Feb. 03, 2016
One of the first things Alfonso Gamino did after being hired as the Superintendent of the Santa Paula Unified School District in 2013 was review facilities.
Gamino heard complaints regarding the girls locker rooms at Santa Paula High, and personally went to inspect them.
He saw just how badly they needed to be upgraded to match the newer boys locker rooms.
It set in motion a series of changes Santa Paula High has made over the last two years to move closer to full compliance with Title IX — the federal law that requires schools to provide equal access to academic and athletic opportunities for all students, regardless of gender.
In addition to the locker room makeover, Santa Paula has added four new girls teams. Varsity and JV water polo is making its debut this season, varsity golf began last year and JV tennis and freshman soccer were added.
“I wanted to make sure all the students had equal access to our facilities and an equal opportunity to participate in teams,” Gamino said. “Our district and our school board are very committed to Title IX and I am very confident we are in compliance and very excited about the interest our students have shown.”
The Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center in San Francisco sent the Santa Paula district a letter last year highlighting some Title IX issues at the high school.
Through its work with the California Women’s Law Center, the LAS-EC received a complaint from Santa Paula students about the athletic inequities on campus.
The district responded by adopting a resolution to undertake a comprehensive Title IX assessment.
It hired Donna Lopiano as an adviser. Lopiano, the former Chief Executive Officer of the Women’s Sports Foundation, is recognized as an expert in gender equity in sports.
After visiting Santa Paula High and meeting with administrators, Lopiano developed a strategic plan for the athletic department to follow.
“She has been tremendous. Since she has come out here, all the programs have benefited,” Santa Paula High athletic director Danny Guzman said. “It’s really been a blessing for us, and now we have received a lot more resources than we’ve ever received at Santa Paula.”
The district has invested nearly $500,000 toward the Title IX compliance effort. The money was allocated from one-time funding from the state budget.
The LAS-EC has been impressed with Santa Paula’s all-encompassing approach in fixing the Title IX issues. The non-profit often faces pushback from school districts and foot dragging to implement changes.
“I really feel that Santa Paula could be a model for other districts in terms of how quickly they responded and in terms of how much they have done,” LAS-EC senior staff attorney Elizabeth Kristen said. “It’s unusual for us to see districts respond so quickly and make changes in such a positive direction.”
Wednesday was National Girls and Women in Sports Day, and many female athletes across the nation celebrated how sports transformed their lives.
Although Title IX is frequently mentioned in college sports, it can be overlooked at the high school and middle school levels.
The LAS-EC still encounters administrators and athletic officials who are not aware the federal law applies to their schools and are hesitant to cooperate.
“Many think it’s too hard to comply or girls don’t want to play sports,” Kristen said. “But Santa Paula is a community that doesn’t have a tradition of water polo, and they started a vibrant team and received a great response. Girls need helpful outlets, especially school-sponsored teams. Club sports can be very expensive and competitive and not everyone is able to participate.”
Gamino has been pleased with the changes made at Santa Paula High since his arrival, and anticipates more progress in the future.
“It’s really all about our kids having great opportunities,” he said. “I played sports in high school and those were some of my fondest memories.”
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