DSU may avoid court date in Title IX equestrian suits

    Delaware State University has decided to postpone dropping its women’s equestrian team for one year.

    Delaware State University is postponing a decision to drop its women’s equestrian team for one year, potentially heading off a hearing this week that could have forced them to keep the program going.

    A U.S. District Court judge in Wilmington is scheduled to hear arguments from attorneys for team members and recruit Melia Blakely Thursday on their request for a preliminary injunction that would stop DSU from disbanding the team, as planned, at the end of the school year.

    Lawyers for the school filed papers late Tuesday informing the court of its decision and asking the court to cancel Thursday’s hearing, arguing there is no case for a preliminary injunction now.

    DSU spokesman Carlos Holmes confirms the school has decided to field an equestrian team in 2010-2011.

    “That will allow the equestrians that will be seniors during the 2010-2011 season to complete their academic journey as a part of the equestrian team,” said Holmes.  “It will also give underclassmen another year to be on the equestrian team and an additional year for them to make decisions, and to make plans for either staying at Delaware State University or transferring to another school that may have an equestrian program.”

    Holmes also confirms the commitment to the program is only for one more year.  In its court filing, DSU stands by its argument that it is Title IX compliant, and that its decision to eliminate the equestrian program “was lawful and in the best interests of its overall athletics program and the University as a whole.”

    UPDATE: Lawyers for the team members suing DSU have responded to Delaware State’s request that the preliminary injunction hearing be canceled.  In their letter to the court, they argue that “voluntary cessation of a policy does not render a request for an injunction moot.”  They question the manner of the reinstatement (i.e – full funding, access to resources, etc…) and DSU’s history of following through with stated gender equity plans.

    Holmes adds the status of the suits did not play a role in DSU’s decision to extend the program’s life by one year.

    “That really has no bearing on our decision,” Holmes said.  “Our decision is our decision.  And that is to continue the equestrian program for one more year.”

    Holmes says DSU understands what happens next is up to the court, but it appears the suit brought by Melia Blakely may be dropped.   Blakely’s lawyer, Ron Poliquin, sent a letter to Judge Leonard Stark saying his client has reached a settlement with Delaware State and is ready to dismiss the suit once that agreement is signed.

    Holmes would not comment on the status of the Blakley suit.

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