ACLU Warns Alabama School District That Its Mandatory Sex Segregation Program Is Illegal And Discriminatory

November 12, 2008

Boys And Girls At Hankins Middle School Not Allowed To Interact Even In School Hallways

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: (212) 549-2666; media@aclu.org

MOBILE, AL – After hearing from outraged parents of students who, without notice, were involuntarily segregated by sex at Hankins Middle School in Mobile, Alabama, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Alabama sent a letter to the Mobile County School System today warning that mandatory sex segregation in public schools is illegal and discriminatory. The civil liberties organization also asked, under the Alabama Open Records Act, that the school district make public any and all documents relating to sex segregation policies in Mobile County schools from the past two years.

"Mandatory sex segregation in public schools is not only clearly against the law, it's also an empty promise for failing schools," said Allison Neal, staff attorney with the ACLU of Alabama. "Inevitably these experimental programs deny equal opportunity to girls and boys and distract much needed time and money from efforts that we know work like smaller classes, highly trained teachers, sufficient funding and involved parents. Sex segregation doesn't make public schools more like private schools. If some private schools provide a better education, it's because of their resources, not because they are single-sex."

Without notifying parents, Mobile County School System segregated the entire student body of Hankins Middle School by sex for the 2008-2009 school year and failed to provide any coeducational option. In addition to segregating students for all academic subjects, the sex segregation program goes so far as to punish boys and girls who are caught speaking in the hallways.

The ACLU charges that mandatory sex segregation in public schools violates Title IX of the Education Amendments, the Equal Education Opportunities Act and the U.S. Constitution.

Mark Jones, whose son, Jacob, is a seventh grader at Hankins Middle School, is outraged that his son's school was segregated by sex.

"Absolutely nothing good can come from segregating our kids. It's an outdated mode of education that sets gender equality back to the dark ages," said Jones. "I also worry how our children are supposed to learn how to behave around the opposite sex when schools like Hankins Middle School threaten them with punishment if they so much as talk to each other."

Another parent, Terry Stevens, whose son attends the eighth grade at Hankins Middle School, said, "I want my son in a coed school to prepare him for the real non-segregated world. It's simply not right that the public school system is forcing me to send him to a sex-segregated institution." 

According to Jones, the school principal told him that the change was necessary because boys' and girls' brains are so different that they needed different curriculums.

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.

"There is no evidence that sex segregation improves learning, but what we've seen is that sex segregation in public schools denies equality to both boys and girls," said Emily Martin, Deputy Director of the ACLU Women's Rights Program. "For example, if the best math class in the school happens to be the girls' class, the boys are completely shut out simply because of their sex."

The Mobile County School System has 30 days to respond to the ACLU's Open Records Request.

In addition to the ACLU, organizations that have previously opposed the type of segregation at Hankins Middle School include the national NAACP, the National Education Association and the American Association of University Women.

Attorneys who worked on the open records request include Neal from the ACLU of Alabama and Martin and Lenora Lapidus from the ACLU Women's Rights Program.

The ACLU's open records request is available online at: www.aclu.org/womensrights/edu/37737lgl20081112.html

More information on the ACLU Women's Rights Project work on sex segregation is available at: www.aclu.org/womensrights/edu/34504res20080228.html

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