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Lexington athletic director suspended over Title IX incident

Posted by Tom Coakley  January 23, 2013 04:14 PM

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Lexington’s athletic director was placed on one week of unpaid leave starting Thursday, after she admitted to fabricating information in an email to other athletic directors in the Middlesex League.

Naomi Martin sent an email Nov. 15, to athletic directors in 11 other local districts, including Arlington, Belmont, Reading, Watertown, and Woburn, alleging the league was not in compliance with Title IX, which promotes gender equity in school sports.

Martin, who has been Lexington’s athletic director since 2010, told her counterparts in the email, that an unnamed Lexington parent was threatening to sue if gender inequity in the basketball schedule was not rectified.

As a result, the Middlesex League schedule was changed, to allow girls’ basketball varsity squads to play at 7 p.m. rather than 5:30 p.m. The later times tend to draw more spectators and make it easier for parents to attend games.

A parent, Kathryn Robb, had indeed written to Lexington High school’s principal on November 14, regarding the same issue, and Martin quoted from Robb at length in her email to the athletic directors.

But Martin embellished when she said that the parent had threatened to file a civil rights lawsuit and go to The Boston Globe with her complaints, “untrue statements” according to a letter of apology Martin wrote to Robb on January 19. Martin also told athletic directors that the parent was targeting the entire league, even though Robb only mentioned Lexington, and that she was a civil rights lawyer, which she isn’t. (Robb is a bar exam instructor.)

“I know this was wrong and I deeply regret having communicated as I did. I sincerely apologize,’’ Martin said in her letter to Robb.

Martin could not be reached Wednesday for comment.

Superintendent Paul Ash, who referred the Globe’s request for comment to a spokesperson, sent a letter to the same athletic directors January 19, to correct the record.

“While I believe the email was well intentioned insofar as it was written to advance the league’s compliance with Title IX, Ms. Martin’s decision to strengthen her advocacy by falsely stating that the league had been threatened by a parent with both a lawsuit and negative publicity for non-compliance is unacceptable and must be corrected,” Ash wrote in the letter.

Karen Schwartzman, the spokesman for the schools, said Martin would be placed on one week unpaid leave beginning Thursday.

Robb, a mother of five and a longtime volunteer basketball coach, said she is frustrated with the superintendent’s response.

“If a student had taken a teacher’s email and, copied and pasted it, altered it, doctored it in 18 to 20 places and then blasted it out to other people, I think that that student would be swiftly and probably severely disciplined,” said Robb in a phone interview with the Globe Wednesday. “I find it difficult to believe there wouldn’t be swift and severe action for a student.”

She said she doesn’t know what exactly would be appropriate discipline in this case, but she said her reputation has been ruined with parents thinking she threatened to sue the schools.

Robb’s email to Lexington High Principal Laura Lasa was stern in its tone but ended on a conciliatory note.

“LHS is in clear violation of the law,” wrote Robb. “Yet, what is most troubling, is that LHS is sending a very bad and insidious message to their female athletes – they are ‘less than’ their male counterparts.”

In her email to the principal, Robb wrote that she felt she had been professional and emphasized that she had not gone to The Boston Globe or filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Office of Civil Rights.

“I am not looking for blame, judgment or penalty,” she wrote to Lasa. “I am seeking progress.”

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