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Opting out of Gender Stereotypes

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March 28, 2013

By Noah Saenz

This week, as part of our “Teach Kids, Not Stereotypes” campaign, ACLU affiliates across the country filed administrative complaints and public records act requests seeking investigation of single-sex education programs rooted in sex stereotypes. We learned about one of these programs from Noah Saenz, a sophomore at Valley Charter High School in Modesto, California, who contacted the ACLU about the separation of students in his advisory class.

My name is Noah Saenz, and I am a Sophomore at Valley Charter High School in Modesto, California. I love my school. I am involved in many extracurricular activities, keep my grades up and am taking college classes at night. A few days before finals, I was shocked when our new principal came into our advisory class and announced that, starting after winter break, the Sophomore and Freshman advisory classes were to be segregated according to gender!

The Principal explained that the girls were apparently having issues with dress code, and the school wanted to address those issues separately so they could teach the girls how to dress like “ladies.” The boys, we were informed, would be required to do internships with local businesses and the girls were not going to have this opportunity until the school determined that their dress was appropriate.

Many of us students were confused and outraged—and we weren’t even sure if this was legal. When my mom picked me up, and I told her about it, she said she was not informed of this decision at all. Apparently, the principal had made this decision without informing the parents or the school district, and with zero input from the students themselves.

I did some research into separating classes by gender and found the slogan “Teach Kids Not Stereotypes” on the ACLU web page. I went to the store to make tee shirts for the kids who wanted to protest this decision with me. On Monday morning, I wore my tee shirt. It caused quite a stir in school. A classmate and I decided to rally the kids together to wear these shirts throughout the remainder of the week, to protest the class change.

I got to participate in a couple of conference calls with the ACLU in New York. I thought that was so cool. They said no kid had ever taken that step on their own before to protest and make tee shirts. I really felt I was doing the right thing. Some kids and teachers thought I was just being argumentative or pushy but it was never about that for me. I told everyone I gave the shirts to that this was a silent protest and we needed to be careful to be respectful while getting our voices heard. For me, it was not about friends hanging out together. It was about each student having an equal opportunity to the same education. I truly believe that my education would be hurt if I were to be separated into gender specific classrooms.

We had a meeting on the first day back after winter break, and you guessed it – I was still in my tee shirt! The principal said in the meeting that she would not separate the classes, and that if the school had gender specific classrooms in the future, it would be voluntary and the parents would have to “opt in” with a signed note. So far, no classes have been separated.

I am glad that I was able to speak out and make a difference at my school, even though it wasn’t easy to take a stand, especially against adults in an authority position. I even had teachers call me names, and some said I was disrespectful. But I have felt good about my decision, and I think I went about it the right way. I believe girls deserve the same opportunities as boys, and I believe in having our voices heard in an appropriate manner.

It meant so much to me to have the support of my family and the ACLU in standing up for what I believe. I think when I look back on my high school years, that moment is going to be a defining moment in my life.

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