What's at Stake
On September 8, 2009, the ACLU Women’s Rights Project and the ACLU of Louisiana filed a lawsuit in a federal district court in Louisiana challenging the Vermilion Parish School District’s illegal sex segregation policy. The lawsuit charged that mandatory sex segregation in public schools violated Title IX of the Education Amendments, the Equal Education Opportunities Act and the U.S. Constitution. 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.
Two weeks before school opened in the fall of 2009, 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.
The District Court recognized the program had been wrongfully implemented, but that offering single-sex classes was in the “best interests” of the students, and allowed the program to continue with slight modifications. On appeal, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals found that the District Court had not applied the law correctly and sent the case back. In June of 2011, the Vermilion Parish School Board voted to suspend the sex-segregated program for the 2011-2012 schoolyear because too few parents of fifth- and eighth-grade students signed their children up for the single-sex classes. The School Board then moved to dismiss the case as moot in light of the youngest plaintiff’s pending graduation. The ACLU successfully moved to amend the complaint to include additional plaintiffs. Following this development, Vermilion Parish School Board agreed to enter a consent decree guaranteeing that it would not institute sex-segregated programs at any of the 19 schools in Vermilion Parish through the 2016-2017 school year and to notify the ACLU if it intends to revive sex-segregated activities at any school during the 2017-2018 or 2018-2019 school years.