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I’d Like to File a Complaint

Allie Bohm,
Policy Counsel,
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December 6, 2012

Today, we’re filling formal complaints with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) about two schools that are teaching stereotypes, not kids.

Picture this: You’re in fifth grade. Maybe you’re in sixth grade. And, you go to public school. You show up for class on Monday morning, and if you’re a boy, you’re ushered into a bright classroom. You’re given the option of sitting on a bouncy ball – or of standing at your desk or even of moving around the room, if you prefer. You’re also given stress balls to play with and headphones to keep out the noise the other students make, if you chose to use them. The teacher doesn’t look you in the eye, speaks in strong, direct tones, and gives minimal instructions, leaving you to figure out how to execute the assignment at hand. Your teacher talks about “‘being a man,’ that is, an adult male who is essential to his community’s care and development.” Businessmen from the community and other role models regularly come in to meet with your class or with you one-on-one.

But say you’re a girl. You’re shown into a dimmer classroom with significantly more students than the boys’ classroom and expected to sit quietly – in a chair. You are not given headphones or stress balls. The teacher looks you in the eye and disciplines you if you talk out of turn or leave your desk. She generally speaks in a “soft, soothing voice and gives large amounts of explanations for assignments,” leaving you no space to make discoveries for yourself. There are no role models provided to your class, and your teacher does not talk to you about being heroic or the ways in which you can be essential to your community’s development and care. You want to sit with your neighbor at lunch, but seeing as he is a boy, and lunch tables are assigned based on academic classes, you’re not allowed to.

Think I’m painting a picture of a school from Jane Eyre?

I’m actually describing classes in two schools: Middleton Heights Elementary School in Middleton, Idaho and Huffman Middle School in Birmingham, Ala. In 2012. Which is why we’re filing complaints with OCR suggesting that these schools are violating Title IX and the Constitution (and for that matter failing to give their students a fair shake).

Look, here’s the bottom line: there are plenty of girls who like bright lights, have trouble sitting still, and thrive through experiential learning. (Just look at our plaintiffs in West Virginia, a case challenging a school with very similar programs to Middleton Heights and Huffman.) And, there are plenty of boys who like a quiet environment and explicit instructions. What’s more, while there is “no well-designed research showing that single-sex education improves students’ academic performance,” there is substantial evidence that strong mentors and smaller class sizes do improve academic outcomes, benefits that in Middleton Heights and Huffman seem to only be provided to the boys, and that all students deserve.

Alabama seems to know this. In response to our public records requests and demand letters, Lawrence, Mobile, Chilton, St. Clair, and Tallapoosa Counties, as well as Dothan City, ended illegal single-sex programs in their public schools in 2008, 2009, and 2011. Birmingham (and for that matter, Middleton, Idaho) should follow their lead. We’re hoping OCR will push them in the right direction – and make it clear to all public schools that they should be teaching kids, not stereotypes. We’re talking about our children’s futures here. The stakes are just too high.

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