Though she said she never intended to take the matter to litigation, Ginger Folger said it was vital to see the Title IX case involving Gainesville High School’s softball program through to the end.
“It was important for me as this proceeded to show my daughter and all the other girls on the team that when you’re being treated unfairly, there are avenues to follow to rectify that unfair treatment,” Folger said.
Folger filed the lawsuit in June 2016 as the mother of an incoming Gainesville High School student playing on the softball team.
Gainesville City Schools’ announced a settlement at its Wednesday meeting.
In her suit, Folger cited Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender in any federally funded education program or activity. The suit also cited the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which calls for equal protection under the law.
Some of the discrepancies listed between the school’s boys’ and girls’ sports teams in the lawsuit included equipment, pre-game meals, coaches’ compensation, facilities, restrooms, protective screens for dugouts, scoreboards, bullpens and publicity.
“From the naked eye, you can tell there were differences,” Folger said.
The school system’s written statement following the vote read: “The Gainesville City School System Board of Education and Superintendent are pleased to announce that, as part of the district’s overall capital improvement plan for its schools and facilities, it will be moving forward over the next year to make improvements to the softball field and complex located on the campus of Gainesville High School.
“GCSS is committed to providing its student athletes with the best facilities possible and to providing equitable facilities for male and female athletes. With this announcement, GCSS has continued on that path and, at the same time, resolved a pending lawsuit. It looks forward to continuing the great tradition of Red Elephant excellence in regional and state competition.”
The effort to improve the field began at the beginning of eighth-grade for Folger’s daughter, who played on the junior varsity squad.
“Some parents, my husband and I offered to raise part of the money to fund the improvements, and that was turned down,” Folger said.
Superintendent Jeremy Williams, who took the position this month, said he was unaware of any such offer. He said the only people who might have known of it were Gainesville High Principal Tom Smith, former Athletic Director Billy Kirk or former district Superintendent Wanda Creel.
Smith said he was aware the dugout renovation concern was discussed with Kirk, but he was not aware of any parent fundraising discussions.
“That would certainly (have) been a conversation I would like to have been a part of. If that was put on the table, I wasn’t made aware of that,” Smith said. “I didn’t go any further to look into or to ask for anything to go any further. I just wasn’t aware. (Kirk) was a central office position and his line of reporting went straight to the central office.”
The Times attempted to reach Kirk for comment, but was unable to reach him or leave a message.
In spring 2016, Folger said she spent almost two months researching case law and Title IX.
“Even during that period, I continued to try to reach out to the powers-that-be at the high school for some resolution,” she said.
Documentation for the case involved an abundance of photos, budget items and open records requests.
Folger waited outside the board room Wednesday as the settlement was discussed, saying she was pleased to see it reach resolution.
“I’m grateful for Dr. Williams and the work that he’s done in the time that he’s been here. I think he’s been instrumental in getting this settlement done,” Folger said.
Her daughter, who lives for softball and plays every weekend, was also pleased and “relieved to have this behind us,” Folger said.
Folger said she looks forward to the work ahead to help build female athletics at the high school.
Times reporter Norm Cannada contributed to this report.