Complaints filed with the U.S. Department of Education show schools in Broward, Volusia and Hernando Counties violating law with classes based on junk science about difference between boys’ and girls’ brains; Previous complaint in Hillsborough County challenged similarly-flawed program
September 3, 2014
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Miami, Fla. – The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights calling for a federal investigation into school districts in Broward, Volusia and Hernando Counties, stating that the districts' single-sex classroom programs violate federal anti-discrimination law.
The complaints, based on evidence primarily from information discovered by ACLU requests under Florida’s public records law, state that the districts' programs are based on disproven notions about how boys and girls learn and develop, and that parents have been misled about how the programs are working. The ACLU has also complained about Stetson University's practice of placing student teachers in Volusia's discriminatory classrooms, violating its own Title IX obligation not to aid or perpetuate sex discrimination.
"Parents should know that their school districts are spending tens of thousands of dollars training teachers that boys and girls are so different that they have to be taught separately using radically different teaching methods," said Amy L. Katz, cooperating attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. "This theory is based on junk science that has been soundly debunked by experts, and has never been shown to improve educational outcomes."
The complaints state that the programs violate Title IX, the federal law prohibiting discrimination in federally-funded education programs and activities based on sex. The programs at the heart of the complaints are based on discredited theories about the differences between boys and girls. The complaints further allege that the school districts have conducted teacher trainings in the counties that are "premised upon, and promote, harmful stereotypes concerning asserted biological differences in brain structure and development." The complaints come just months after a similar one filed challenging the sex-segregated classrooms program in Hillsborough County Schools, and are being filed on the same day as another complaint in Texas.
Among the details uncovered by the ACLU and included in the complaints is the discovery that Broward County paid over $23,000 in training and materials on gender difference and made the training compulsory for teachers in the sex-segregated classrooms. The Gurian Institute champions the idea that classroom materials "should be matched to interests traditionally associated with each gender (e.g. books on sports for male students) as a way of increasing student engagement."
Teachers in all three of the school districts in which the complaints have been filed received training from Stetson University’s Hollis Institute, which recommends different lesson plans for girls and boys. For example, training documents from the Hollis institute advises teachers to "reassure" young female students struggling with math that "when her brain is ready she’ll be ready." Other recommendations include using a "commanding" voice for boys' classes but that such a tone would be "too loud or assertive for an all girls’ class."
"These are the kinds of ideas that have historically been used to push boys and girls onto very different educational tracks and are exactly what anti-discrimination laws are supposed to protect parents and students from," stated ACLU of Florida Director of Legal Operations Nancy Abudu. "Limiting students' learning opportunities based on sex stereotypes is damaging. Students in Broward, Volusia and Hernando counties should all have the same opportunity to learn in the way that best fits their need, regardless of their sex."
The information in the complaints was collected as part of the ACLU's "Teach Kids, Not Stereotypes" initiative to end the practices of separating boys and girls in public schools based on false ideas about boys’ and girls’ purportedly different brains and learning styles. ACLU's investigation has shown that many such programs, including numerous programs in the state of Florida, are based on the ideas of proponents of single-sex education like Michael Gurian and Leonard Sax. Sax has claimed that girls perform poorly under stress, so they should not be given time limits on a test, and that boys who like to read, do not enjoy contact sports and do not have a lot of close male friends should be firmly disciplined, required to spend time with "normal males" and made to play sports.
According to a large-scale study published by the American Psychological Association, separating boys and girls does not necessarily lead to better outcomes. While some single-sex programs have enjoyed success, those successes likely result from variables other than sex segregation such as parent engagement and discipline reforms.
The complaints, authored by the ACLU of Florida and the ACLU's Women Rights Project, request that the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights investigate all schools in Hillsborough County Public Schools that have instituted sex-segregated classrooms, order the three districts to remedy any unlawful conduct, and monitor and secure assurances of compliance with Title IX from all schools within the District.
"The adoption of single-sex education programs based on sex stereotypes has become widespread across the state of Florida, and should not be permitted to continue," said Galen Sherwin, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. "We are calling upon the United States Department of Education not only to investigate, but also to make clear to schools across the country that sex segregation based on these types of blatant sex stereotypes violate the law."
The ACLU has further called upon the United States Department of Education to make clear to schools across the country that sex segregation based on these types of blatant sex stereotypes violates the law.
Copies of the complaints are available here:
- Cover letter: https://aclufl.org/resources/3-fl-counties-single-sex-doe-cover-letter/
- Broward: http://aclufl.org/resources/single-sex-complaint-broward-county/
- Hernando: https://aclufl.org/resources/single-sex-classes-complaint-hernando-county/
- Volusia: https://aclufl.org/resources/single-sex-classes-complaint-volusia-county/