ACLU Asks Florida Department of Education to Investigate Single-Sex Programs Rooted In Stereotypes

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
May 21, 2012 12:00 am

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TALLAHASSEE – The American Civil Liberties Union today asked the Florida Department of Education (DOE) to investigate single-sex programs throughout the state.

Based on the most recent information for the academic year 2011-2012 obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, the programs appear to 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 merely because of their sex.

The ACLU’s letter called upon state education officials to enforce federal and state laws that prohibit discrimination based on sex in school districts where Florida’s students are being denied their right to an education free from sex stereotypes and other forms of sex discrimination. The organization’s letter also calls upon the Florida DOE to immediately investigate whether unlawful single-sex programs that were in place during the 2010-2011 academic year have continued into the current 2011-2012 school year.

The request is part of the ACLU’s multi-state “Teach Kids, Not Stereotypes” initiative to end the practice of separating boys and girls based on discredited science rooted in outdated stereotypes. An investigation by the ACLU reveals that many programs in Florida have been based on these disputed theories suggesting that boys and girls learn so differently that they need to be educated separately. Additionally, some schools illegally have made participation in the programs mandatory by not offering a viable co-ed alternative.

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 records from pending requests in several other states, including Alabama, Wisconsin, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.

“All children in Florida have a right to a quality education, but programs that are based on stereotypes do a disservice to our kids,” said Howard Simon, Executive Director of the ACLU of Florida. “While single-sex educational programs may be well motivated, they are based on bad science and, in practice, too frequently end up denying educational opportunities by forcing both female and male students to conform to outdated notions about how boys and girls learn and behave.”

Single-sex educational programs have been widespread in Florida, with programs operating in 32 schools in 16 districts as of the 2010-2011 school year, according to the most recent records provided by the schools to the DOE. The records strongly suggest that many of these programs violated federal or state law

Some examples cited in the ACLU’s letter to the DOE include Highlands Middle School in Duval County, which required students who did not wish to participate in the single-sex classes to enroll in another school. The same was true for schools in Polk County, while other counties failed to alert parents that they had the option to opt out of single-sex classes. Other examples include offering classes to one sex, but not the other. Matthew Gilbert Middle School in Duval County, for example, offered single gender journalism and critical thinking classes to boys, but not to girls.

Some of the programs were based on the ideas of Dr. Leonard Sax, whose theories on the supposed differences between boys’ and girls’ brains are rooted in archaic stereotypes. For example, Dr. 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.

Orange County, for example, cited Sax’s discredited 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 sex segregation does not improve academic performance, but does foster stereotypes.

“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.”

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