Last Updated:November 28 @ 05:03 pm

ACLU fights against separating genders in school

By Jessie L. Bonner and Heather Hollingsworth

MIDDLETON, Idaho (AP) - Robin Gilbert didn't set out to confront gender stereotypes when she split up the boys and girls at her elementary school in rural southwestern Idaho.

But that's exactly what happened, with her Middleton Heights Elementary now among dozens of public schools nationwide being targeted by the American Civil Liberties Union in a bitter struggle over whether single-sex learning should be continued. Under pressure, single-sex programs have been dropped at schools from Missouri to Louisiana.

"It doesn't frustrate me," Gilbert said of the criticism, "but it makes the work harder."

While Gilbert's school is believed to be the only one in Idaho offering single-sex classes, the movement is widespread in states like South Carolina, which has more than 100 schools that offer some form of a single-gender program.

Single-sex classes began proliferating after the U.S. Education Department relaxed restrictions in 2006. With research showing boys, particularly minority boys, are graduating at lower rates than girls and faring worse on tests, plenty of schools were paying attention.

In 2002, only about a dozen schools were separating the sexes, according to the National Association for Single Sex Public Education, an advocacy group. Now, an estimated 500 public schools across the country offer some all-boy and all-girl classrooms.

Proponents argue the separation allows for a tailored instruction and cuts down on gender-driven distractions among boys and girls, such as flirting. But critics decry the movement as promoting harmful gender stereotypes and depriving kids of equal educational opportunities. The ACLU claims many schools offer the classes in a way that conflicts with the U.S. Constitution and Title IX, a federal law banning sex discrimination in education. Researchers also have weighed in.

Diane F. Halpern, a former president of the American Psychological Association, co-authored a review of studies last fall in the journal Science that found research doesn't support the benefits of single-sex education. Additionally, there are lots of problems whenever you segregate people into groups, Halpern said.

"Stereotyping increases so we really do have lots of data that says it's just not supported," she said.

However, proponents have put out their own studies, showing the benefits of separating students. Middleton Heights Elementary cited the research when it first piloted single-sex classes in a few grades. The goal was to address the struggles boys were having in reading.

The idea proved so popular that single-sex classes have expanded throughout the school. Parents can opt out, a choice required by law, if they want their kids in a traditional coed classroom.

In the single-sex classes, teachers use microphones that allow them to electronically adjust the tone of their voice to match the level that research suggests is best for boys. When preparing for a test, the boys may go for a run, or engage in some other activity, while the girls are more likely to do calming exercises, such as yoga.

On a recent tour, Gilbert peeked into a classroom of third grade boys, who had decorated their walls with a camping theme, complete with construction paper campfires and a sign that read "fishing for books."

Next door, the third-grade girls opted for an "under the sea" motif. When they spotted Gilbert in their classroom door way, a few of the girls jumped from their seats and ran to give her a quick embrace.

They learn the same curriculum, they still lunch and play at recess together, but the differences in their learning environments are apparent, from the blue chalkboards in the boy classrooms, to the red paper hearts that decorated the wall of one of the girl's classrooms.

These environments are driven by student interests and what they're learning at the time, Gilbert said.

Dr. Leonard Sax, the founder of the Pennsylvania-based National Association for Single Sex Public Education, contends the movement is about breaking down gender stereotypes, not promoting them.

"We want more girls engaged in robotics and computer programming and physics and engineering," Sax said in a telephone interview. "We want more boys engaged in poetry and creative writing and Spanish language."

For advocates like Sax, the increase in this form of learning is exciting, but it's troubling for others.

The ACLU launched a national campaign, Teach Kids, Not Stereotypes, in May and sent cease-and-desist letters to school districts in Maine, West Virginia, Alabama, Mississippi and Virginia. The group also asked state officials to investigate single-sex programs in Florida, while sending public record requests to schools in another five states, including to Gilbert's school in Idaho.

Doug Bonney is legal director of the ACLU of Kansas and Western Missouri, where he successfully challenged single sex classes in Missouri's Adrian R-III School District. He argues there's no proof single-sex classrooms work while there's plenty of evidence they actually enhance gender stereotypes and lead to sexism.

"This isn't the right step to address higher dropout rates by boys," Bonney said. "They promote false stereotypes about sex-based differences that don't exist. Promoting sex stereotypes can harm both girls and boys."

Both sides agree the idea is not new and has a long history in private schools. But Galen Sherwin, staff attorney with the ACLU Women's Rights Project, said its history in public schools is much darker and has roots in the South, where it was broadly instituted in an effort to evade the desegregation requirements of Brown v. Board of Education to try "to prevent black boys from being in the same room as white girls."

"In the wake of Brown, many schools in the south integrated racially but segregated on the basis of sex," Sherwin said.

Nancy Levit, a law professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, addressed this issue at a meeting of the Association of American Law Schools: "Think about it, in terms of race," she said. "What would people say if the state paid for an all-white school or an all-black school? As long as there was a racial element nobody would have a problem seeing a constitutional difficulty."

The analogy drew a heated reaction from Sax, who argues that a federal judge in Kentucky debunked this notion when ruling last year against parents who tried to block single-sex classes at a Breckenridge County school. Critics like the ACLU are out of line when they draw parallels to Brown v. Board of Education, Sax said.

"Either they're really stupid and not able to grasp what the judge is saying in the ruling, or they're being deliberately misleading," he said.


Hollingsworth reported from Kansas City, Mo.

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  1. joelinpdxComment by joelinpdx
    July 9, 2012 @ 10:48 am

    The ACLU is among the cretins who believe that there are no differences between boys and girls. There’s an obvious reason why little boys like dinosaurs and Transformers while little girls favor dolls and tea sets. It’s because girls and boys are made in different ways, they have different parts and different stuff running through their brains.

    But the ACLU and other liberals just can’t seem to fathom this. Given their druthers they’d prefer same sex restrooms for everyone. Might as well. Why treat males and females differently. No more sexism in the language, no more sexism in the classroom, no more sexism in the restrooms.

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  2. BobinmsComment by Bobinms
    July 9, 2012 @ 10:57 am

    Yep….play the race card, even for a gender issue.

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  3. fmrusmcrntxComment by fmrusmcrntx
    July 9, 2012 @ 11:19 am

    Nothing surprising here. All anyone needs to do is a bit of research into the history of the ACLU. Founded by socialists and original communist sympathizers, this organization has done more to DESTROY American values than any other in our nation! And they continue to do so! Of course they “play the race card”; they play ANY card in their suite so long as they can undermine all the values, traditions, and very fabric that made the USA the greatest country in history! These “people” and their sympatizers/supporters are the “clear and present danger” to our freedom and very existence!

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  4. montie364Comment by montie364
    July 9, 2012 @ 11:26 am

    The ACLU like the unions has morphed into a terrorist organisation.

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  5. nancyjComment by nancyj
    July 9, 2012 @ 11:29 am

    My tax dollars pay for the lawyers of the ACLU and I totally disagree with those dollars being used for that purpose.
    I remember when “black mothers” picketed because they didn’t want their children to be taken out of neighborhood schools. They lost. So did their kids. No after school programs. No way to get home.
    Not only that, but in the wisdom of the so-called experts, the standards for classes were lowered, no child was kept behind because he or she just didn’t get it. How has that worked for you?
    Now, we are penalized in jobs because of poor education in this country.
    Now, we insult our black community needlessly. There never was any difference intellectually. There were just more parents helping their children with their studies at home in the white community.
    The “experts” are letting all of our children down.
    I see no problem with separating the sexes. The important thing is to get the job done and help our kids.

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  6. prairelivingComment by praireliving
    July 9, 2012 @ 11:42 am

    As a person who attended a single sex school, and with two brothers who did the same, the whole idea that this method stereotypes students ini a negative way is crazy.

    In fact, when choosing a high school I purposely picked the all girls school because I wanted to be a scientist. At the co-ed school the girls were washing test tubes and the boys were doing the very cool experiments (talk about stereotypes!). I can recall telling my mom, “If I want to wash dishes I can do that at home, I want to do the experiments!” At my school the girls were the scientists, math whizes, sports stars, crew for plays and concerts, and all the members of student council. They also did all the “traditional” girl things. When I got to college and a guy told me to run for Student Council Secretary since I was a woman…I ran for President and beat him in the election. My single sex education taught me in a way that was geared toward me learning and also that women can do anything a man does. I wasn’t the only one who learned this if you look at what my fellow alumni are doing.

    My brother’s had the same experience in the opposite way. The boys did the home ec classes, typing, choir, acting in the play, some excelled at art and other traditional “girl” subjects and they did it in an environment designed for them.

    No matter what the ACLU or anyone else says, boys and girls are different (ask any parent raising both) and thrive in different environments. It is time to stop worrying about how it all looks and do what is best for the kids.

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  7. tarheelComment by tarheel
    July 9, 2012 @ 4:32 pm

    I come from a long line of teachers. My mother taught in a one room schoolhouse in rural Michigan during the depression. All of us are convinced that single gender education works very well. The politically correct folks who have never actually taught school, however, seem to be convinced that they know best how to manage a classroom. If we simply held teachers accountable to results,and stopped micro managing they way they do their jobs, our kids would be much better off.

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  8. freedomfighterComment by freedomfighter
    July 9, 2012 @ 6:10 pm

    The ACLU’s eyes are tuned into a different microscope than others, in that they see only what is in front of it on the slide.
    A single Mexican child goes to them and complains that he hates seeing the American flag in the classroom, and all of a sudden, the ACLU is hot on the phones to have the flag removed, not only in that room, but all others, because it just could offend someone else.
    What happened to majority rule, and the rights of the many?. Does it no longer count what the majority want, but a vendetta to change all for the likes or dislikes of one?.
    This has been evidenced in so many things, a Cross is removed from a highway where it pays respects to someone killed in that location. A single motorist who passes that Cross and is offended that it is visible openly to him or her, when they obviously are Anti-Christian, offends them, so one call to the ACLU, and it is ready to sue the State, DOT, or anyone else they can, to have the cross removed which offended a single motorist.
    A Nativity scene in a neighborhood is seen as a assault on a single persons rights, who happens to be Anti God, and the ACLU is ready to take down the property owner because one person was upset that someone had the gall to display this scene where they had to see it.
    A couple of people complain that they hate it when someone at a store says Merry Christmas to them because they are Anti-Christian, sends the ACLU into a tizzy, and they are ready to have ANY Nativity seen in public removed to appease this one or two whom it offends.
    The list goes on and on, we have all seen it in the last 3 1/2 years particularly of this Administration, that the Majority’s rights are removed because of the one or the few. The President himself went on a vendetta to have Christmas, and Christmas trees removed, and called winter, simply because the word, and the tree were offensive to a few. Christmas is a time honored holiday, yet he says no one in a store should say Merry Christmas to ANYONE, because a couple may be offended. Christmas trees are no longer Christmas trees, thanks to his efforts on that behalf.
    One by one, our inalienable rights are being removed at the beckon and call of a few. Our Country is being changed, as he said it would be when he said we will TRANSFORM America, and we are no longer a Christian Nation.
    I agree in individuals rights, and I say to anyone who does not want to see a Cross, Nativity scene, or anything else, that is is not required, nor has in any manner been able to not look at it if they choose not to.
    My rights, and the rights of the many are removed, or scrutinized because of the minority’s complaints.
    THIS IS A TRUE REMOVAL OF RIGHTS FOR THE MANY, and Who stands to protect the majoritys rights?. You guessed it, NO ONE.

    They use the Constitution in matters of this kind, to try and make it look like all are guilty of something, but when it goes the other direction, the Constitution is ignored if it happens not to go along with these radicals and their minions.


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