The ACLU has launched a program called “Teach Kids, Not Stereotypes” to end the practice of illegal sex-segregated classes across the country. As part of this initiative, the ACLU sent “cease and desist” letters to school districts in Maine, West Virginia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Virginia, which the ACLU alleges uses generalizations and stereotypes prohibited by law as the basis for segregating girls and boys for instruction in core curriculum. For example, according to this article about the ACLU’s action in West Virginia, some schools there segregate the sexes so that they can teach boys with examples about tools and sports and teach girls with examples about shopping and hair. A “cease and desist” letter typically threatens legal action against a recipient that does not stop the practice alleged to violate the law.
Another part of the ACLU’s initiative is to use public records laws to gather information about possible similar abuses of single-sex education by school in other states such as Massachusetts, Indiana, Idaho, Washington, and Illinois, Alabama, Wisconsin, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia. Based on a prior records request of schools in the state of Florida, yesterday the ACLU of Florida asked the state Department of Education to investigate programs across the state for apparent violations federal and state law. This suggests that school districts in the above-named states could be in store for either litigation or state enforcement. The ACLU has successfully used litigation and the threat of litigation to end illegal segregation in Louisiana’s Vermilion Parish and in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
There are hundreds of school districts now experimenting with single-sex education in the wake of the Department of Education’s 2006 regulation that allows sex-segregation in core courses so long as it is voluntary, substantially equal, accompanied by co-ed alternatives, and tailored to an important educational objective. For example, as the ACLU argued in the Vermilion Parish litigation, a school could “offer an all-girls’ physics course where girls had previously not enrolled in physics classes, or an all-boys’ poetry class where boys traditionally avoided the poetry elective” so long as equivalent physics and poetry classes were also available in a co-ed format. Generalizations and pseudoscience about learning differences are not the identified educational objectives the Department of Education appears to have in mind, though they seem to be the most common justification for single-sex classes. Given this likelihood of widespread abuse, it is appropriate that the ACLU is attacking the problem in a manner designed to have an impact in states across the country.