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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The American Civil Liberties Union launched the “Teach Kids, Not Stereotypes” initiative today to end the practice of separating boys and girls in public schools based on discredited science that is rooted in outdated gender stereotypes.
ACLU offices in states across the country – including those in Maine, West Virginia, Alabama, Mississippi and Virginia – are sending cease-and-desist letters today to individual school districts to halt programs that could violate federal and state law by forcing students into a single-sex environment, relying on harmful gender stereotypes and depriving students of equal educational opportunities.
The ACLU of Florida today also asked the state Department of Education to investigate programs across the state after data obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request indicated the programs appear to violate federal and state law. In the past few weeks, the ACLU has also sent similar public records requests to schools and school districts in Massachusetts, Indiana, Idaho Washington and Illinois, and continues to review pending requests in several other states, including Alabama, Wisconsin, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.
“Supporters of single-sex education make vague claims that these programs get results but don’t have the proof to back it up,” said Mie Lewis, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “Instead of implementing these gimmicky programs, schools should focus on strategies that work for all students.”
Many of these programs are based on the ideas of Dr. Leonard Sax and other proponents of single-sex education, whose discredited theories on the supposed differences between boys’ and girls’ brains are rooted in archaic stereotypes. For example, Sax says that girls do badly 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.
Schools in Orange County, Fla., for example, cited Sax’s brain theory of differences between boys’ and girls’ brains as its justification for single-sex education. These theories were recently debunked in an article authored by a multidisciplinary team of scientists in the prestigious journal Science, which argued that single-sex education does not improve academic performance, but does foster stereotypes.
“We all want to fix failing schools. But coeducation is not the problem, and single-sex education is not the answer,” said Galen Sherwin, staff attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “Over and over we find that these programs are based on stereotypes that limit opportunities by reinforcing outdated ideas about how boys and girls behave.”
In order to safeguard against sex discrimination, federal law prohibits coeducational schools from implementing single-sex programs unless they meet extremely stringent legal requirements. At a minimum, schools must offer a persuasive justification for the decision to institute single-sex programming, the programs must be completely voluntary, and a substantially equal co-educational alternative must be available.
Based on information received by the ACLU, lack of compliance with these requirements is widespread. Some schools required students who did not wish to participate in the segregated classes to enroll in another school, while others failed to alert parents that they had the choice to opt out of the classes. Other examples included offering classes to one sex, but not the other.
As part of the “Teach Kids, Not Stereotypes” campaign, the ACLU will continue to seek records on single-sex programs, send letters to school districts seeking an end to unlawful programs, and call on state governments to investigate violations. If such programs are not ended, the ACLU will consider pursuing further legal action, including filing lawsuits and administrative complaints with state and federal agencies.
For more information on the campaign, please visit: www.aclu.org/womens-rights/teach-kids-not-stereotypes.