DENHAM SPRINGS, LA -- The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Louisiana today filed a lawsuit on behalf of thirteen-year-old eighth grader Michelle Selden who wants to have the same educational opportunities as boys. She wants to stop the Livingston Parish School Board from segregating students on the basis of sex in the coming school year. "School officials cannot ignore the law and sex segregate classes based on broad gender stereotypes about psychological differences between boys and girls," said Joe Cook, Executive Director, ACLU of Louisiana. "As an example, they have bought into some bizarre ideas like 'boys need to practice pursuing and killing prey, while girls need to practice taking care of babies.'" At the end of the school year last May, the parents of current and future students at Southside Junior High were informed of the school's decision to immediately halt co-education and instead, force the children into single-sex classrooms. The change came without community involvement or opportunity for parents to participate in the decision making process. With the new policy, students have no choice about a mandatory assignment to sex-segregated classrooms. There is no co-educational option.
Mandatory single-sex education has long been decried as creating a divisive system with the potential to harm both boys and girls. The educational theories that promote such a split are too often based on faulty research and radically inaccurate gender stereotypes. Yet despite such programs being declared unlawful, Southside has decided to pursue such a course of action. According to the ACLU, the end result is that children of both sexes will be harmed. For instance, one of the sex segregation proponents the school district has relied on asserts that teachers should not look male students in the eye or smile at them. Another asserts that girls are only adept at math theory during the few days in their menstrual cycle while their estrogen is surging. "I have always had boys in my classes before when I have gone to school," said Michelle Selden, who is bringing the lawsuit. "I think that having boys in the class has not made it hard for me to learn. I think that boys and girls should be treated the same way by teachers and that it is unfair for girls to be taught one way and boys to be taught another." The lawsuit comes on the heels of a demand letter sent last week to Southside officials in the Livingston Parish School District. The letter called for an immediate stop to plans to segregate students on the basis of sex in the coming school year. The school district has said that they do not intend to reverse the decision to segregate the students. "We all want to ensure that our children have access to the best education possible," said Emily Martin of the ACLU Women's Rights Project. "Mandatory single-sex education is counter to that principle, and it's the kids who bear the brunt of these discriminatory policies." The complaint, filed today, is available online at:www.aclu.org/pdfs/womensrights/20060801seldencomplaint.pdf The ACLU's letter to the school board is available online at www.aclu.org/womensrights/edu/26286lgl20060731.html
A statement from Michelle Selden is online at: www.aclu.org/womensrights/edu/26327res20060802.html
A statement from Darren Selden, Michelle's father is online at:www.aclu.org/womensrights/edu/26328res20060802.html