Roughly 540 public schools in the United States offer single-sex classrooms. Vermilion Parish (La.) Public School District wants to add to that number— but it won’t happen without a fight from the American Civil Liberties Union.
Last May, the ACLU and the ACLU of Louisiana, representing a Vermilion Parish parent, appealed a case against the school board for instituting genderseparate classes at a middle school after a district court allowed a modified version of the program to continue in the school. The school district maintains that the classrooms are voluntary and have prompted positive feedback from most parents and staff, while the ACLU believes the program violates Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause.
The program was piloted at Rene A. Rost Middle School, which is comprised of about 420 students in grades 5-8 and located 150 miles west of New Orleans, during the 2008-2009 school year as a test by the principal, who was pursuing his doctorate at the time. After the principal reported positive findings to the school board, the program continued in the middle school into the 2009-2010 school year with four single-sex classrooms in each grade for five core subjects.
The original lawsuit was filed in September 2009 after a parent’s two children had been placed in single-sex classrooms against their wishes. The judge ruled a revised version of the program could continue, and the district reduced the number of singlesex classes to two—one boys’ class and one girls’ class per grade—and made the classes opt-in by parents only.
“The faculty had seen such an improvement in behavior and attitude of kids,” according to Calvin Woodruff, legal counsel for Vermilion Parish Public Schools. “The program is entirely voluntary. There is no difference in course materials in each class, and if no child was elected in, all classes would be coed.”
Lenora Lapidus, director of the Women’s Rights Project at ACLU , says the school’s data supporting the program was flawed and that, to date, there is no credible data to support the claim that single-sex classes increase student achievement.
“It’s a regression,” says Lapidus. “These decisions are based on outdated gender stereotypes. It’s saying that boys and girls are so different that they must be taught in separate classes.”
A similar case is currently pending between Breckinridge (Ky.) County Middle School and the ACLU and the ACLU of Kentucky. Both Vermilion Parish Public Schools and the ACLU have agreed to an expedited appeal and hope to receive a decision by early fall.