It all started earlier this year when players from the James Logan High School girls basketball team learned that the boys basketball team had access to a high-tech shooting machine that was off limits to female athletes.
It bothered team captain Aunika Hornung so much that she told her mother, who reported the inequity to the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR).
"You’re basically telling them that they’re not worthy, that they don’t matter and you don’t have time for them,’’ said Tai Pena-Hornung.
Her daughter agrees.
"We play the same game so saying we couldn’t use the same equipment that benefits both girls and boys it was just shocking, honestly at first," said the high school senior.
Initially, her mom tried rallying parents and wrote messages in April to school administrators explaining why she believed it was a violation of Title IX, which protects athletes from discrimination based on sex.
The principal responded by email and said it was not a Title IX violation and "outside of the scope of equal access" since the boys team fundraised and purchased the shooting machine without the school’s help.
But because the district receives federal money, any equipment or supplies donated or stored on school property must be shared fairly and equally, no matter the funding source in order to be in compliance with Title IX.
"We know we live in a world where we don’t get the same opportunities," Aunika Hornung said. "For them not to do anything hurts."
That shooting machine is a specialized piece of equipment used in training to improve athletes accuracy, ability and agility on the court.
The school did find and repair a broken, older shooting machine for the girls team to use, but it still didn’t sit well with Pena-Hornung.
So she filed a formal complaint with the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, which opened an investigation.
In November, federal education officials completed its review expressing concerns of potential violations and backing up the female athletes.
"Title IX requires that equitable benefits, including equipment and supplies, be provided to both male and female teams irrespective of the source of the funds for those benefits," OCR wrote in reply to the complaint. "OCR had concerns with the provision of a rebound machine for the men’s basketball team, but not for the women’s basketball team, and their inability to access the rebound machine."
The New Haven Unified School District, without admitting guilt, chose to enter into a resolution agreement with the Office for Civil Rights.
Part of that agreement requires a weekly shooting machine schedule be posted to reflect equal access.
Additionally, administrators and coaches must undergo Title IX development training and by early next year, evaluate all sports equipment to determine if other disparities exist.
"It’s very similar to a slap on the wrist," Pena-Hornung said. "However, it has been documented. They are on notice."
The district declined an interview and would only provide a statement.
"What we found were misunderstandings that could be mischaracterized as a Title IX issue," Superintendent John Thompson said "Our District leadership greatly values athletics as an integral part of our high school program and we strive to make all programs, academic and athletic, equitable for all students."
Several female athletes say they still feel sidelined and have yet to use the newer shooting machine.
But the girls team has been fundraising and just reached the $6,500 needed to purchase a brand new shooting machine that they hope any high school athlete can take a shot at. They’re just waiting on the district to sign off on it.
"If we got a shooting machine, we would share it," Aunika Hornung said "We play the same sport. It should be fair."