Thursday, August 16, 2012

ACLU Challenges Single Sex Classes in West Virginia Schools

Yesterday, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against Wood County Board of Education in West Virginia, challenging its sex-segregated education at Van Devender Middle School.  The lead plaintiff is a parent whose children are adversely affected by the gender stereotyping at that school. According to the complaint, classrooms and teaching methods reflect gross generalizations of questionable validity, such as that boys learn best in cool, bright rooms where they can move around.  The girls' classrooms at Van Devender, in contrast, are warm and dimly lit, and students must remain seated and always inside during instructional periods, compared to the boys who sometimes have class outside.  For one of the plaintiff's daughters, who has attention deficit disorder, the stereotypes about girls' quiet learning styles are hard to endure. Another is visually impaired and has greater difficulty seeing in the dim lighting of the girls' classroom.

The ACLU's legal argument is that the segregated classes at Van Devender violate the Constitution's Equal Protection Clause, which requires sex-based classifications to be substantially related to an exceedingly persuasive government objective and not rooted in broad generalizations.  It also argues that the school violates Title IX and its implementing regulations.  The Department of Education's regulations require that single-sex programs must be voluntary and offer an equivalent co-ed alternative, which Wood County does not, and that they must either be intended to "improve educational achievement" through "diverse educational opportunities" or be motivated by "particular, identified educational needs."  The ACLU argues that the pseudoscience underlying Wood County Board of Education's pedagogical choices do not satisfy either test.  

The ACLU seeks an injunction against the continuation of single-sex classes at Van Devender.