ACLU Targets Single Sex Classes

CHARLESTON – The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of West Virginia demanded that the multiple public schools in West Virginia refrain from unlawful sex-segregation in elementary and middle school classes. Based on the most recent information obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, at least five schools in the state operated single-sex education programs during the past school year which appear to violate federal and state law by forcing students into a single-sex environment, relying on harmful gender stereotypes and depriving students of equal educational opportunities.

The ACLU of West Virginia sent letters to three school districts, seeking an agreement from the schools to refrain from engaging in any and all unlawful single-sex and gender-specific programs or activities effective at the start of next school year. The schools addressed in the ACLU’s letters were Stonewall Jackson Middle School and Anne Bailey Elementary School in Kanawha County, Barboursville Middle School and Enslow Middle School in Cabell County, and Van Devender Middle School in Wood County.

The request is part of the ACLU’s multi-state “Teach Kids, Not Stereotypes” initiative to end the practice of separating boys and girls based on discredited science rooted in outdated stereotypes. An investigation by the ACLU reveals that single-sex educational programs in West Virginia public schools are based on these disputed theories suggesting that boys and girls learn so differently that they need to be educated separately. Additionally, some schools illegally make participation in the programs mandatory by not offering a viable co-ed alternative. Similar letters were sent today in Florida, Maine, Mississippi and Virginia.
In the past few weeks, the ACLU has also sent public records requests to schools and school districts in Massachusetts, Indiana, Idaho Washington and Illinois, and continues to review records from pending requests in several other states, including Alabama, Wisconsin, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia.
“Designing curricula and establishing the school environment according to gender stereotypes can be detrimental to young people by limiting their options, influencing their behavior and coloring their expectations for future academic and professional opportunities,” said ACLU of WV Executive Director Brenda Green. “Instead, students need to learn that men and women are guaranteed the same educational and vocational rights under the law and are equally capable of achieving academic success.”

As an example, media reports indicate that in one West Virginia school district teachers tailor lesson plans to gender stereotypes by teaching boys with examples having to do with “sports” and “tools,” and by allowing girls to write about “shopping and their hair.”

Many of these programs are based on the ideas of Dr. Leonard Sax and other proponents of single-sex education, whose discredited theories on the supposed differences between boys’ and girls’ brains are rooted in archaic stereotypes. For example, Sax says that girls do badly under stress, so they should not be given time limits on a test; and that boys who like to read, do not enjoy contact sports and do not have a lot of close male friends should be firmly disciplined, required to spend time with “normal males” and made to play sports.

These theories were recently debunked in an article authored by a multidisciplinary team of scientists in the prestigious journal Science, which argued that sex segregation does not improve academic performance, but does foster stereotypes.

“We all want to fix failing schools. But coeducation is not the problem, and sex segregation is not the answer,” said Galen Sherwin, staff attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “Over and over we find that these programs are based on stereotypes that limit opportunities by reinforcing outdated ideas about how boys and girls behave.”

In order to safeguard against sex discrimination, federal law prohibits coeducational schools from implementing single-sex programs unless they meet extremely stringent legal requirements. At a minimum, schools must offer a persuasive justification for the decision to institute single-sex programming, the programs must be completely voluntary, and a substantially equal co-educational alternative must be available.

Based on information received by the ACLU, lack of compliance with these requirements is widespread. Some schools across the country required students who did not wish to participate in the single-sex classes to enroll in another school, while others failed to alert parents that they had the choice to opt out of the classes. Other examples included offering classes to one sex, but not the other.
As part of the “Teach Kids, Not Stereotypes” campaign, the ACLU will continue to seek records on single-sex programs, send letters to school districts seeking an end to unlawful programs, and call on state governments to investigate violations. If such programs are not ended, the ACLU will consider pursuing further legal action, including filing lawsuits and administrative complaints with state and federal agencies.

For more information on the campaign, please visit: