Education is the foundation for civic participation, and schools are formative in shaping how children and young people view themselves and others. Accordingly, it is essential that school environments foster gender equality and provide safe spaces in which all students can learn. Since the enactment of Title IX in 1972, federal law has guaranteed the right to education free from sex discrimination, and since then women and girls have made great strides toward achieving equality. But serious obstacles remain.

One major step backward is the increasing trend of separating boys and girls in public schools based on sex stereotypes. Sex-segregated educational programs are often justified based on pseudoscientific theories about how boys’ and girls’ brains function and how they learn; male and female students are then subjected to radically different teaching methods in the classroom on the basis of these sex-based generalizations. Treating students differently based on their sex is the definition of sex discrimination, and the growth of this trend in our public schools is a serious threat to gender equality.

Additionally, pregnant and parenting students often face severe obstacles to educational equality, leading to high dropout rates. Schools often treat young mothers as behavior problems and deny them full access to an education, fail to provide necessary services to support them in their parenting responsibilities, and engage in policies that lead them to drop out of school. In doing so, schools deny these students equal access to the tools they need to overcome the challenges they face as young parents as well as perpetuate sexist, and often racist, conceptions about sexually active young women.

Finally, students often face gender-based violence and harassment, which schools too often trivialize and fail to take adequate steps to prevent or remedy. Students’ equal access to education depends on effective policies and responses by colleges, universities, and school districts to address the violence and harassment that many students experience.

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