ACLU Represents Students In Challenge To Sex Segregation In Kentucky Public School

Affiliate: ACLU of Kentucky
May 19, 2008 12:00 am

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Lawsuit Expanded To Include U.S. Department Of Education

The Anthony family is fighting segregation by sex in the Breckinridge County middle school. Clockwise: Frankie, Stacey, Nikki, Sean and Carol Anthony.

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LOUISVILLE, KY - On behalf of five families, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Kentucky filed an amended complaint in federal court today charging that segregating classes by sex in Breckinridge County Middle School is illegal and discriminatory. The ACLU's lawsuit expands a previous lawsuit filed by a private attorney against the Breckinridge County School District and other county entities to include the U.S. Department of Education.

"The Breckinridge County sex-segregated classrooms are not only unlawful because they deny boys and girls equal opportunities in education these kinds of experimental programs are also misguided in that they distract from efforts that we know can improve all students' education like improved funding, smaller classes, more parental involvement and better trained teachers," said Emily Martin, Deputy Director of the ACLU Women's Rights Project.

The ACLU lawsuit argues that Breckinridge County Middle School's sex-segregated classes are fundamentally unequal and unlawful and violate the Fourteenth Amendment's equal protection clause, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the Equal Educational Opportunities Act, and the state sex equity law. It also argues that by issuing federal regulations that encourage school districts to segregate students by sex, the U.S. Department of Education has violated the law.

The Breckinridge County School District instituted sex-segregated classrooms in its middle school in 2003, shortly after the U.S. Department of Education announced its intention to loosen federal restrictions on sex-segregated education. According to the Department of Education's own review in 2005, there was no strong evidence that sex-segregated instruction was beneficial to students or improved their education. Nevertheless, the Department of Education issued regulations in October 2006 that, for the first time in 30 years, allowed public coeducational schools to segregate students by sex. In doing so, it broke with over 20 other federal agencies that continue to have regulations on the books forbidding such segregation, which apply to many public schools including Breckinridge County Middle School. Nevertheless, in the wake of the Department of Education's actions, public school districts across the country have created single-sex programs.

At Breckinridge County Middle School, the classes for boys, the classes for girls, and the coeducational classes differ from each other significantly, apparently using different textbooks and covering academic material at different rates. Although in previous years parents were given the option of whether to participate in sex-segregated classes, in the 2007-2008 school year, students were assigned to all-male, all-female, or co-educational classes with no input from the students or parents. Only after parents complained did the school notify parents - several weeks later - that they could opt out of the segregated classes.

However, because in at least some instances the available coeducational classes were not equal to the sex-segregated classes, parents who would otherwise have preferred their children benefit from the diversity of a coeducational setting could not remove their children from the same-sex classes without sacrificing the best instruction available for their children. In addition, when the best class in a particular subject was a single-sex class, students of the opposite sex were unable to participate in the best education the school had to offer.

"More and more public school districts around the country are experimenting with sex-segregated schools and classrooms, often presenting these programs as quick-fix solutions to an array of problems facing their local public schools," said Michael Aldridge, Executive Director of the ACLU of Kentucky. "Sex-segregated education diminishes real diversity in education. One of the strengths of public schools is the opportunity they provide for students of different sexes, races, and religions to learn from each other."

Frankie Anthony, whom the ACLU is representing, has two daughters who attend Breckinridge County Middle School. He is concerned about the school's sex-segregated program and wants the best education possible for his daughters. His older daughter, Nikki, is a talented math student assigned to an all-girl math class.

"I think my daughters will be less prepared to succeed in the world if they can't socialize, compete and work together with boys in school, but I can't take my daughter out of her math class without compromising her education, because it's the best math class in the school. At the same time, boys don't even have the option to be in her math class," said Anthony.

"Real life doesn't put boys in one room and girls in another," added Nikki Anthony. "I don't think it's fair that the smartest boys in my grade can't take math with me or that I can't take English with them."

Compounding the problem, the Breckinridge County School District has recently hired as a consultant David Chadwell, Director of Single-Sex Initiatives in the South Carolina Department of Education and board member of the National Association for Single Sex Public Education - an organization that advocates questionable "brain science" theories that sex segregation is necessary because boys' and girls' brains are so different. In his writing and on his website, Chadwell urges teachers to treat boys and girls very differently - for example, allowing boys to talk loudly in class and insisting that girls remain quiet; encouraging boys - but not girls - to toss balls while answering questions; and giving boys - but not girls - time limits for academic tasks.

Organizations that have previously opposed the single-sex regulations promulgated by the U.S. Department of Education include the National Education Association and the American Association of University Women.

The case is A.N.A. et al. v. United States Department of Education et al. Attorneys on the case include Martin, Lenora Lapidus and Araceli Martinez-Olguin of the ACLU Women's Rights Project and David Friedman and William E. Sharp of the ACLU of Kentucky.

The ACLU complaint can be found online at:

Sample lesson plans for sex-segregated classes in South Carolina, where Chadwell is Director of Single-Sex Initiatives, are posted on the South Carolina Department of Education website at:

Podcasts of the Anthony family and Martin discussing the sex segregation in the Breckinridge County School District and more information on the ACLU Women's Rights Project's work on sex segregation is available at:

More information on the ACLU Women's Rights Project's work on sex segregation is available at:

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