The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, with the national group in support, has filed civil rights complaints with the Department of Education against schools in three Florida counties over experimental programs that allow for sex-segregated classrooms.
The complaints target Broward, Volusia, and Hernando Counties, which include the cities of Daytona Beach and Ft. Lauderdale. They are an expansion upon an earlier complaint filed against Hillsborough County, which contains the city of Tampa.
The programs involved are limited to a handful of schools and are optional, but the ACLU says that doesn’t make them any more acceptable under Title IX, the federal law banning sex discrimination in schools receiving federal funds. They insist the programs are discriminatory and based on outdated concepts.
“School districts are spending tens of thousands of dollars training teachers that boys and girls are so different that they have to be taught separately using radically different teaching methods,” said ACLU attorney Amy L. Katz in a statement. “This theory is based on junk science that has been soundly debunked by experts, and has never been shown to improve educational outcomes.”
Galen Sherwin, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, told The Daily Caller News Foundation that the educational approaches taken by single-sex classrooms were entrenching stereotypes.
“You see different reading lists for boys and girls, based on their supposedly different interests. You see different lesson plans,” she said. In one example she described, girls had fractions explained to them via a cooking lesson, while boys had fractions explained via a science experiment involving slime.
Alternative methods of teaching are fine, said Sherwin, but only if they are open to both genders. If schools continued to employ their current methods for teaching boys and girls, but allowed children of either sex to sign up, “that would be a-okay with the ACLU,” she said.
Supporters of sex-segregated education argue that boys and girls are sufficiently different that there are educational gains to be had by separating them. In particular, champions of such an approach believe that all-male classrooms can help boost the graduate rates for minority boys, which are often far below those of girls. Other advocates argue that gender-segregated classrooms can actually help break down gender stereotypes by, for instance, making it easier for girls to openly express an interest in science.
Title IX allows for single-sex classrooms, but districts must offer a strong justification for them and review their existence every two years. The justifications offered in Florida, the ACLU says, don’t cut it.
The group claims to have discovered documents that explain alleged differences between boys and girls and translate those differences into proposed teaching methods. For example, they claim that teachers are instructed to use loud, assertive voices for boys while describing such a voice as “too loud or assertive for an all-girls’ class.”
“No matter what people might think about single-sex education…our public schools should not be in the business of promoting sex-based stereotypes” said Sherwin.
Sherwin said that they are confident the Department of Education will side with their complaint, and added that their goal is for more explicit guidance to be issued making it clear that single-sex programs like those used in Florida are not acceptable. If that doesn’t work however, she said that a lawsuit is always an option.
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