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School district officials also highlight how the experience changed the district forever. 

It was Super Bowl Sunday in 2016, and Kelsey Deos was ready to make a change.

The idea had been on the Lake Oswego High School softball team's mind for some time. After years of experiencing unjust circumstances, Deos, alongside other softball players, knew it was time to take a stand against the Lake Oswego School District, specifically the discrimination the team faced compared to their male counterparts.

After countless conversations, Deos, a sophomore at the time and other teammates realized that the only way to make a difference was to be the ones to step up to the plate.

Title IX took effect 50 years ago this past June. The federal civil rights law prohibits sex-based discrimination in any school or educational facility that receives funding from the government. Since its conception, the legislation has changed the game for thousands of school districts across the nation — one of which being Lake Oswego.

In April 2016, a little over two months after the initial epiphany, Deos and ten other current and former members of the softball team filed a lawsuit claiming that the school district violated Title IX by denying equal access to the kinds of equipment, facilities, funding and fundraising opportunities provided to the boys baseball team.

The claim highlighted how they had to play on an off-campus dirt field at Lake Oswego Junior High. The baseball team, meanwhile, was administered an on-site field with artificial turf, a hitting facility and other perks. The softball facilities also lacked a bullpen, pitching area, warm-up area, batting cages or a way to separate the field to allow multiple practice stations, the lawsuit said.

"It had been a conversation we'd all had for a while, and I think our frustrations with the facilities and funding just hit that point where we were ready to take on whatever we needed to in order to make a change," Deos said.

'The differences were right there'

Softball was an integral part of Deos' life growing up.

After moving to Lake Oswego in kindergarten, she began playing recreationally for teams across town and remembers being aware of the reputation the high school team held.

"I mean, you could see it — it was pretty obvious when you looked across the street (at junior high) and saw the field. The differences were right there. … there were people that I had talked to who had always wanted to do something, but no one wanted to be the one to do it," she said.

But on that February evening, as the Denver Broncos defeated the Carolina Panthers, the softball team members decided they would be the ones to do something.

The initial lawsuit was filed on April 4, 2016, citing a laundry list of disadvantages the team faced and demanding the same privileges as the baseball team.

The claim also stated that the players had tried to speak up for themselves previously, advocating for better equipment, but allegedly were told by the principal at the time that they would need to "win a state championship" to receive new facilities.

A few weeks after the initial lawsuit was filed, Legal Aid at Work, a California-based nonprofit law firm, joined the case pro bono. The one-dimensional claim that the softball team was mistreated transformed into a class action lawsuit encompassing the inequality of all current and future female-identifying students at Lake Oswego High School.

"I don't think we fully knew what we were getting ourselves into, or that it would turn out as big and drawn out as it did," Deos said. "They identified that this is actually a class action lawsuit because it went above just the softball team, and it was actually affecting all girls at the high school."

What ensued was a year and a half of legal tug of war and negotiation. Deos remembers spending her seventeenth birthday on July 14 in a room full of district officials, lawyers and a mediator.

"I remember at one point during the day, thinking: 'These people think I'm not as good as the boys, they think I don't deserve to be treated the same as the boys.' Obviously, a lot of the (school district officials) didn't feel that way, but we felt so exhausted at that point," Deos said.

After the lawsuit gained traction, the school district did some immediate damage control, like upgrading the indoor batting facility and installing an outdoor batting facility. It also instructed the softball team to use the baseball team's facilities and field until things were sorted out, said Deos.

"We played on the baseball field for about two years, and that was the last thing we wanted. Playing softball on a baseball field is different and not ideal," Deos said. "I wouldn't say we were bullied, but we were definitely getting pushed around a bit at school from the baseball team and various people because our names were on the lawsuit."

But Deos said the experience only taught her and other teammates to stand firm and stick with what they believe is right.

"I felt very open during that time, but it built my confidence of speaking about something that was really vulnerable but important to me," she said.

In the summer of 2017, with a federal judge expected to issue a ruling on the case (which had indeed been granted class action status by U.S. Magistrate Judge Stacie Beckerman) before the end of the year, both parties reached a settlement. The agreement stipulated that the same privileges granted to the baseball team would be given to the softball team. This meant (include some of the facilities that were built as a result, etc.)

LOSD also agreed to add staff members to its team who would monitor the school district going forward, among other things.

How has the school district stepped up its game?

LOSD's Title IX coordinator, Lou Bailey, joined the district in the thick of the lawsuit. He said the lawsuit flicked a switch in the district and changed how administrators viewed everything going forward.

"It's an overall awareness that we have now … we just look at everything with a keen eye,"Bailey said.

The Title IX lawsuit created more opportunities for representation, inclusion and equity not only for the softball team but the entire school district. As soon as the softball team's complaints hit paper, administrators said they began reevaluating all sports — not just softball.

Under Title IX guidelines, school districts must have equal opportunities for all genders to participate. The school district added a co-ed bowling team as well as girls lacrosse and water polo teams.

In addition, the district instituted a no-cut policy for volleyball and soccer to ensure that the percentage of girls attending LOHS who are active in sports is comparable to the participation rate of boys, according to the agreement.

All athletics coaches and sports staff are trained in Title IX and equity curriculum.

The way the district brainstorms school bond work also shifted. As part of the 2017 bond, which was conceptualized and approved by voters before the lawsuit was settled, Lakeridge Middle School received fields for both baseball and softball.

Bailey said the district are also looking into the redesign of Lake Oswego Junior High and LOHS with a Title IX lens.

"We make sure that there is access and space for sports — for both boys and girls," Bailey said.

The district also hired an equity consultant to oversee and monitor the agreement's implementation for three years to ensure administrators were still upholding their efforts to equalize the playing field for all genders in the district. The district completed its monitoring in the fall of 2020.

"It closed the chapter on the Title IX agreement, but it didn't close the chapter on how (the school district) does things differently," Bailey said. "We really have this awareness and lens on everything we do now. When we are planning things out and talking (things out), we make sure that its benefiting both females and male athletes."

Life after the lawsuit

Deos will pack her bags in September and head to New York City for her job.

A recent graduate of the University of Oregon, Deos earned a degree in business, which she used to secure a position at the enterprise software company she presently works at.

She said her Title IX experience was a catalyst to become more involved in women's rights initiatives. In high school she was part of a women's rights club and took courses related to the topic. The experience also piqued her interest in the legal system.

"The experience opened my eyes to a lot of things I didn't really (understand) growing up in a place like Lake Oswego," she said. "There's so much more to Title IX than sports, and I'm so much more aware of what is perceived as fair and just."

Reflecting on the night she sat around her living room with her family, the action from the football game blurring behind her, Deos thinks back to how one conversation helped lead to action that forever changed the school district.

"I think when we did reach the end —we were happy for it to be over but I think all of the feelings and emotions were still there," she said.

A plaque now stands on the softball field, home of countless practices since the days of the lawsuit. Stitched into the metal is the names of the softball team—a small token of the year-long fight to level the playing field.

"Our families are always telling us when we visit home to drive past the field and tell ourselves that our actions led to future players and other girls having an equal chance at school," she said. "But we didn't do all of this for the (recognition). We don't take responsibility. I think it was a group effort among all (people) who wanted to make a change."


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