Thursday, May 15, 2014

ACLU Challenges Single-Sex Classes in Hillsborough County, Florida

On Tuesday, the ACLU filed a complaint with the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights challenging the Hillsborough County (Florida) School District's implementation of single-sex education throughout the district.  Fifteen elementary schools and one high school in the county have single-sex classes, while two of its middle schools are entirely segregated by sex.  The ACLU's complaint alleges that the school district has not provided a valid justification for separating the sexes, as required by Title IX, but instead is basing its decision on discredited science rooted in stereotypes. The district allegedly claims that separation is necessary to tailor curriculum to differences in brain development and learning style, including, for example, that “[b]oys engage with non-fiction and stories with action or ‘blood and guts.’ Girls more readily respond to simulations, discussions, and analyzing characters and relationships."  One of the elementary schools uses to boys' class "incorporate sports and competition in learning and classroom management" and promotes tolerance for "behaviors such as humming, tapping, standing, etc."  In contrast, the girls class "will implement a calmer environment that appeals to girls.”

Title IX regulations generally prohibit single-sex classes, but allow exceptions when such classes are substantially related to a plan to promote students' academic achievement or other particular identified student needs.  In no case, however, can permissible justification for segregation rely on "overly broad generalizations about the different talents, capacities, or preferences of either sex."  The regulations also require that any sex segregation be "completely voluntary" and offer parents and students the option of a coed alternative.  In this case, the ACLU also challenges the voluntary nature of the program by calling out the misinformation provided to students and parents in order to gain their consent.

Part of ACLU's apparent motivation in challenging Florida's second-largest school district is to send a message to the other Florida districts likely to follow suit when a new state law takes effect on July 1 that requires training for teachers in "gender-specific" classrooms. It is urging federal intervention, and state investigation, to ensure that this law doesn't put Florida schools in violation of Title IX.