Thursday, April 02, 2009

ACLU Settles With Sex Segregated Middle School

The ACLU backed off of its threats to sue Mobile County, Alabama, after the county agreed to stop its practicing of segregating the entire student body at Hankins Middle School by sex for all classes and activities.

Under the settlement agreement, elective classes and nonacademic activities (such as lunchtime) are immediately re-integrated. The county also agreed that as of next school year, all courses will be integrated and no school will institute any sex segregated programs for the next three years. For two years following that three-year moratorium, any plans to institute new single-sex programs must go to the ACLU in advance.

As we noted in earlier posts, Mobile's decision to segregate an entire middle school likely violated Title IX regulations, which allow experimentation with same-sex instruction but only where parents have notice and an opportunity to opt out. It was also almost certainly a violation of the Equal Protection Clause, since such broad-based segregation was not narrowly tailored to a persuasive justification. Parents were concerned, moreover, that single-sex classrooms were being used to teach kids "ideas about gender that come from the dark ages." For example, a language arts exercise for girls asked them to use as many descriptive words as possible to describe their dream wedding cake. The boys' assignment was to brainstorm action verbs used in sports.

Though single-sex classes are popping up all over, only Hankins Middle School had taken the drastic step of converting its entire school to a single-sex model. The ACLU's successful settlement will likely deter other schools from going to similar extremes. Perhaps it will even give schools pause before engaging in more limited experiments with single-sex education.