Experimenting with Sex Segregation in the Classroom? Not with My Girls

Yesterday, the ACLU settled a lawsuit challenging sex segregation of a public middle school in Kaplan, Louisiana. Facing a wave of recent victories in the litigation, the School Board agreed to stop all sex segregation across the entire school district for the next six to eight years.

Today, I am one very proud mom — because my two daughters were the plaintiffs in the case that ended sex segregation in their school.

When I first heard that the school principal had taken it upon himself to separate the boys from the girls for all academic classes, I was furious. I always raised my daughters to believe they could do whatever they wanted to do. When I learned that the school was dividing the kids according to sex, I immediately feared that my girls were not going to have the same challenges as the boys.

My girls are very independent, competitive, and aggressive. They always played sports, and I always taught them they could compete on equal footing with the boys. I feared that if they were separated in school, it would send the message that they shouldn't be doing that, that it wasn't their place. Despite the progress we've made, many people still hold beliefs that there are differences between what men and women can and should do. In the South, people are very traditional — the prevailing attitude is still that the man is the head of the family, and the woman stays home with the kids. There is nothing wrong with that choice — I did it for years. But I didn't want my girls to get the message that that was their only choice, especially at such a young age.

My fears were realized when I found out that the whole idea behind separating the girls from the boys was the notion that they needed to be taught using different teaching styles — and even curricula. In the girls' classes, they were assigned books about romance, and in the boys' classes, they were reading books about hunting and dogs. My second daughter had another three years at the school, and I couldn't face the idea of her getting three more years of that kind of conditioning.

From the moment I learned about this I was determined not to let this happen with my children. I talked to my best friend and she suggested I call the ACLU. At the time, I didn't know if this was a violation of their rights, or whether the school could do this legally. I just knew it was wrong.

I have never doubted that decision, to this day. That's not to say it was always easy. This is a very small town, and even though we were anonymous in the case, the school administration knew who had stirred the hornet's nest. But I knew that I would never be able to live with myself if I gave in. All that mattered was my girls, and there was nothing else to it.

In the end it was worth it. Not only will the sex segregation stop until my youngest daughter has graduated — it will also send a message to school administrators around the country that this kind of costly experiment isn't worth it. And I hope that other families will benefit from what my girls and I went through, and take courage that they can fight for what they believe.

The biggest lesson I hope my girls learn from this experience is that they can be vocal, strong, and independent, and they don't need to be coddled or spoken softly to in order to accomplish anything they want to in life. And that if they stay true to who they are — no matter how hard it may be to get there — justice can be done.

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