Earlier this month, the ACLU filed formal complaints (see here and here) with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, challenging single-sex educational programs at Middleton Heights Elementary in Middleton, Idaho and Huffman Middle School in Birmingham, Alabama.
Middleton’s program, in place since 2006, separates girls and boys into separate classrooms and teaches differently to each group. Boys’ classrooms incorporate exercise and movement, while the girls are given a quiet environment. Boys are not seated face-to-face, as girls are, on the theory that “boys are more competitive and should not be forced to make eye contact.” Boys receive more explanation for assignments, and the school makes efforts to bring in “male role models” to combat concerns about them having too many female teachers. The school does not inform parents that the program is voluntary, and many believe they did not have a choice to opt out, which the law requires. One final objection to Middleton’s program is that it has not caused any academic improvement, belying its justification in the first place.
In 2010, Huffman Middle School began separating boys and girls for all classes and activities, even lunch. It offers no coeducational alternative, which is a clear violation of Title IX’s regulations on single-sex education. The curriculum in boys’ classes calls for “stressing ‘heroic’ behavior that shows what it means to ‘be a man.'” The ACLU complaint also criticizes the school for relying on a book “that teaches that boys are better than girls in math because their bodies receive daily surges of testosterone, while girls have similar skills only ‘a few days per month’ when they experience ‘increased estrogen during the menstrual cycle.'” Huffman’s program, like Middleton’s is not supported by any evidence that academic achievement has improved.
According to its website, the ACLU wants OCR to investigate these cases and bring them into compliance with Title IX regulations, which only allow single-sex programs that have an academic justification. The organization also wants OCR to clarify to school districts that sex stereotypes such as those reflected in Huffman and Middleton’s curricula are not justifications for segregation under the law.