The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Louisiana filed a lawsuit in a federal district court in Louisiana today challenging the Vermilion Parish School District's illegal sex segregation policy. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of a parent whose two children were placed in sex segregated classrooms without being offered equal coeducational options as required by law.
"We have seen time and time again that sex segregated programs are inherently unequal for both girls and boys and in some instances, can shut students out of the best classes in the school simply because of their sex," said Emily Martin, Deputy Director of the ACLU Women's Rights Project. "One of the strengths of public schools is the opportunity they provide for students to learn from those different from themselves. Sex segregation leaves students less prepared for success in a coeducational world. In fact, there is no consistent evidence that segregating students by sex improves learning for either boys or girls."
Two weeks before school opened, parents of students at Rene A. Rost Middle School, a public middle school in Vermilion Parish, were informed that classes would be segregated by sex. When the parent represented by the ACLU objected to this mandatory sex segregation and informed the school district this was illegal, the school district agreed to amend the plan to ensure that coeducational classes would be available and that any participation in the single-sex program would be voluntary. On the first day of school, however, the parent discovered that both her children had been placed in single-sex classes. When she requested that her sixth- and eighth-grade daughters be placed in coed classes, she was told that the sixth-grade coed class was already full. Her eighth-grade daughter was told that if she wanted to be in coed classes, the only option was a special needs class.
"Everyone has the right to the same quality education," said Marjorie R. Esman, Executive Director of the ACLU of Louisiana. "Opportunities must be available to all students based on their abilities, rather than their gender. The students of Vermilion Parish deserve to be treated as individuals so that they can best achieve their potential."
The ACLU charges that mandatory sex segregation in public schools violates Title IX of the Education Amendments, the Equal Education Opportunities Act and the U.S. Constitution.
"Mandatory sex segregation in public schools is not only clearly against the law, it's also an empty promise for failing schools," said Katie Schwartzmann, Legal Director of the ACLU of Louisiana. "Inevitably, these experimental programs deny equal opportunity to girls and boys and distract much needed time and money from efforts that we know work like smaller classes, highly trained teachers, sufficient funding and involved parents."
A recent review of existing data by the U.S. Department of Education showed that there is no consistent evidence that segregating students by sex improves learning by either sex. Yet school districts across the country are experimenting with sex segregated programs, which all too often rely on questionable "brain science" theories based on outdated gender stereotypes that suggest that teachers should treat boys and girls radically differently.
Attorneys who worked on the case, Doe v. Vermilion Parish School Board, include Schwartzmann from the ACLU of Louisiana, Martin and Lenora Lapidus from the ACLU Women's Rights Project and ACLU of Louisiana board member and cooperating attorney Ron Wilson.
The ACLU's complaint and supporting documents are available online:
More information on the ACLU Women's Rights Project work on sex segregation is available at:www.aclu.org/womensrights/edu/34504res20080228.html