Thursday, November 20, 2008

Segregated Alabama Middle School Challenged by ACLU

Earlier this year, the Mobile County School System segregated the entire student body of Hankins Middle School by sex. This is the most drastic form of public school sex segregation to date, as it applies to an entire school, leaves parents with no option at all for coeducation, and according to the ACLU, "goes so far as to punish boys and girls who are caught speaking in the hallways."

The ACLU recently informed (.pdf) the school district of the patent illegality of the single-sex program at Hanksins. While recent revisions to the Title IX regulations allow schools more leeway than ever before to experiment with single-sex education, single-sex programs must be voluntary. By leaving Hankins parents no alternatives but segregated classrooms, the school district violates this requirement. Moreover, the middle school program almost certainly violates the Constitution's Equal Protection Clause, which requires gender-based distinctions to be backed by "exceedingly persuasive justifications" have been defined by the Supreme Court to exclude generalizations about tendencies (such as, in learning style) of the respective sexes. It is also hard to imagine what kind of "exceedingly persuasive justification" accompanies the rule that girls can't talk to boys in the hallways and vice versa.

If the school district doesn't make changes, the ACLU will file suit. I predict it will win on summary judgment.

One other interesting thing about the ACLU's challenge: in its letter to the school district, the ACLU points out that the district is not only violating the Department of Education's regulations on single-sex education under Title IX, but that it runs afoul of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's nondiscrimination requirements as well. The USDA prohibits any school that receives school lunch program grants from "carry[ing] out any of its education program or activity separately on the basis of sex." See 7 C.F.R. § 15a.34. This means that if the USDA decides to enforce this regulation, it could withhold school lunch program funds from Hanskins Middle School, along with any other of the 100,000+ public and private schools that participate in the National School Lunch Program that elect to operate sex-segregated education programs.

Via Feminist Daily New Wire.