School District in Alabama Agrees to End Illegal Single-Sex Classes in Public Schools

Affiliate: ACLU of Alabama
March 25, 2009 12:00 am

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Policy Change Comes After Notice From ACLU

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MOBILE, AL – The Mobile County School System has agreed to stop sex segregation in public schools after being notified by the American Civil Liberties Union that its sex segregated programs were illegal and discriminatory. Late last evening, the Board of School Commissioners of Mobile County approved a settlement agreement changing the policy.

“While schools might think that sex segregated classes will be a quick fix for failing schools, in reality they are inherently unequal and shortchange both boys and girls,” said Emily Martin, Deputy Director of the ACLU Women’s Rights Program. “We hope that now Mobile County will focus on efforts that we know can improve all students’ education, like smaller classes and more teacher training and parental involvement.”

Without notifying parents, the Mobile County School System segregated by sex the entire student body of Hankins Middle School by sex for the 2008-2009 school year. The policy went so far as to bar boys and girls from even speaking to each other in school hallways. Outraged parents contacted the ACLU in November 2008, after the school denied their earlier requests to resume coeducational classes. At least seven other schools in Mobile County also segregated students by sex; some of these schools did not provide a coeducational option for students or parents.

Under the settlement agreement, Hankins Middle School will immediately cease to segregate students by sex in elective classes, at lunchtime and all other nonacademic events. Beginning in the fall of 2009, all courses will be integrated in every school in the county and no school will institute any sex segregated programs for the next three years. For the 2012-2013 academic year and two years thereafter, if Mobile County plans to institute new single-sex programs in any school, it must first notify the ACLU before implementing them.

Under the sex-segregation program at Hankins Middle School this year, teachers had been instructed to treat boys and girls differently. At a teacher training, teachers were informed that boys should be taught about “heroic behavior” but that girls should learn “good character.” Teachers were told that male hormone levels directly relate to success at “traditional male tasks” but that when stress levels rise in an adolescent girl’s brain, “other things shut down.” A story in the Mobile Press-Register reported that a language arts exercise for sixth grade girls involved asking the girls to use as many descriptive words as possible to describe their dream wedding cake, while the boys were asked to brainstorm action verbs used in sports.

According to Mark Jones, whose son Jacob attends Hankins Middle School, the school principal told him that the changes at Hankins were necessary because boys’ and girls’ brains are so different that they needed different curriculums.

“Segregating boys and girls didn’t make things any better for our children; in fact, it made things worse,” said Jones. “Our kids were basically being taught ideas about gender that come from the dark ages.”

In a letter sent to the school board in November 2008, the ACLU and the ACLU of Alabama informed the Mobile County School System that mandatory sex segregation in public schools violates Title IX of the Education Amendments, the Equal Education Opportunities Act and the U.S. Constitution. The Mobile County school board initially seemed receptive to halting single-sex programs in county schools, but it wasn’t until the ACLU threatened to file a lawsuit that the school board finally agreed to reintegrate.

“I really wish the school had checked in with parents before it went ahead and separated all the boys from the girls,” said Terry Stevens, whose son attends Hankins Middle School. “I’m happy that next year the school will be integrated but very disappointed that my son will have had an entire year without any academic classes with girls. The real world is integrated, and it’s important to both me and my son that he learn in a coed environment.”

A recent review of existing data by the U.S. Department of Education showed that there is no consistent evidence that segregating students by sex improves learning by either sex. Yet, school districts across the country are experimenting with sex segregated programs, which all too often rely on questionable “brain science” theories based on outdated gender stereotypes that suggest that teachers should treat boys and girls radically differently.

“We’re very pleased that the Mobile County school board agreed to end mandatory sex segregation,” said Allison Neal, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Alabama. “These programs are not only clearly against the law, but also diminish real life experiences and diversity in public schools.”

In addition to the ACLU, organizations that have opposed sex segregation in schools include the national NAACP, the National Education Association and the American Association of University Women.

Attorneys who worked on the settlement agreement include Martin and Lenora Lapidus from the ACLU Women’s Rights Project and Neal from the ACLU of Alabama.

A copy of the settlement agreement is available at:

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

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