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Alabama: Another Unlawful Single-Sex Program Goes Co-Ed

Amy L. Katz,
ACLU Women's Rights Project
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June 6, 2013

A Birmingham, AL public middle school has agreed to abandon unlawful single-sex classes as the result of ACLU action that led to an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR), the federal agency charged with enforcing Title IX, the federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in federally funded educational programs.

As part of our Teach Kids, Not Stereotypes campaign, the ACLU and the ACLU of Alabama obtained public records from the Birmingham City School District regarding sex separation within Huffman Middle School. Those records revealed violations of Title IX which generally forbids treating students differently on the basis of sex. In December 2012, the ACLU filed a complaint with OCR detailing the violations at Huffman.

Huffman had been separating boys and girls in every grade for all core curriculum classes, homeroom and lunch, on the theory that there are “hard-wired” differences between boys’ and girls’ brains requiring them to be taught differently, but, possibly in response to ACLU letters of complaint, had cut the program back this year significantly.

Pop theories of hard-wired brain differences between boys and girls have been debunked by neuroscientists, psychologists and educational researchers. Even Birmingham CSD testing researchers were unimpressed with the results of sex separation at Huffman. Analysis of student test results in the areas of reading and mathematics at Huffman and other Birmingham schools that had experimented with sex separation showed no clear pattern of improvement after the initiation of single-sex programs, and the researchers concluded: “There is no definitive proof that the percentage of students scoring proficient is significantly impacted by students being taught in same gender classroom settings.”

Unfortunately, as a recent ACLU report showed, many public schools still have programs based on these false theories and many continue despite a distinct lack of improvement in student performance in single-sex classes. Soon Huffman will no longer be among them.

The Birmingham City School District signed an agreement with the Office of Civil Rights promising to abandon single-sex classes at the end of the Spring 2013 semester and to comply with Title IX regulations forbidding different treatment of students based on sex. The ACLU has three other complaints currently pending with OCR against schools in Wisconsin and Idaho. Let’s hope that these complaints are resolved not only equally swiftly, but also in a manner that makes crystal clear that public schools have no business promoting such blatant sex stereotypes.

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