In the first court hearing ever about sex segregation in coed public schools, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Louisiana argued that the school board in Vermilion Parish, Louisiana illegally discriminated against both boys and girls at Rene A. Rost Middle School by segregating all grades in all core curriculum classes by sex. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of two girls who were placed in single-sex classrooms at Rene A. Rost, the only middle school in the city of Kaplan, Louisiana. The hearing is expected to last through Friday.
"The segregation policy at Rene A. Rost is based on sex stereotypes about the ways children learn and behave," said Lenora Lapidus, Director of the ACLU Women's Rights Project. "These stereotypes are not supported by scientifically valid evidence and are ultimately harmful to both girls and boys who are effectively being told by the Vermilion Parish School Board that the single most important thing about them is their sex."
Two weeks before school opened in the fall of 2009, parents of students at Rene A. Rost Middle School were informed that all core curriculum classes in all four grades would be segregated by sex. When the ACLU objected to the mandatory sex segregation policy and informed the school district that it was illegal, the school district amended the plan to establish a nominally coed option.
However, when the school year commenced, a mandatory sex segregation policy remained in place. Although parents were told they could select coed or segregated classes for their children, they soon learned that the only "coed" option was a class for students with special educational requirements.
"Unfortunately, what we've seen time and time again is that sex segregation programs deny equal opportunity to both girls and boys," said Katie Schwartzmann, Legal Director of the ACLU of Louisiana. "They also divert much needed time and money from efforts that we know work such as smaller classes, highly trained teachers, sufficient funding and involved parents."
The ACLU charges that sex segregation in public schools violates Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the Title IX regulations of numerous federal agencies and the U.S. Constitution.
The Supreme Court struck down single-sex admissions policies for the nursing program at Mississippi University for Women and at the Virginia Military Institute but has not addressed sex segregation in elementary and secondary education.
"The evidence in this case indicates that the sex segregation policy at Rene A. Rost cannot overcome the high and even insurmountable legal hurdles to sex-based classifications in public schools," said Mark Friedman, cooperating attorney from Debevoise & Plimpton LLP. "The school's segregation policy is not only clearly against the law, it also fails to provide parents and students any with any real educational choice."
Studies that purport to show improved performance in single-sex classrooms have not stood up to scrutiny because they have not considered additional factors such as class size, school resources and socio-economic status. Where those variables are considered, students in single-sex classrooms fare no differently than their peers in coed classes.
Attorneys on the case, Doe v. Vermilion Parish School Board, include Lapidus, Amy L. Katz and Naveen Kabir from the ACLU Women's Rights Project, Schwartzmann from the ACLU of Louisiana and Friedman of Debevoise & Plimpton LLP.
The ACLU's complaint is available online at: www.aclu.org/womensrights/edu/40947lgl20090908.html
More information on the ACLU Women's Rights Project work on sex segregation is available at: www.aclu.org/womensrights/edu/34504res20080228.html