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ACLU challenges single-sex classes in Mo. district

ACLU challenges single-sex classes in Mo. district

November 20th, 2011 by HEATHER HOLLINGSWORTH, Associated Press in News

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - As part of a broader legal effort, the American Civil Liberties Union has asked a western Missouri school district to stop offering single-gender classes.

The request was made in a letter sent Friday to the Adrian R-III school district, about 50 miles south of Kansas City. The 770-student district began offering single-sex math and communication arts classes this fall to sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders.

The district said in a written statement that the classes were used on a "voluntary basis in an effort to continue improvement of student learning." The statement said the district is reviewing the ACLU request.

Single-sex classes began proliferating after a U.S. Education Department ruling in 2006, which allows such classes whenever schools think it will expand the diversity of courses, improve students' achievement or meet their individual needs.

But the ACLU has argued the regulations conflict with the U.S. Constitution and Title IX, a federal law banning sex discrimination in education.

The ACLU has sent letters to other districts offering single-sex classes and even taken some of those districts to court. Earlier this month, the head of Pittsburgh's public school system recommended ending single-gender classes after the ACLU threatened legal action. Last month, the Vermilion Parish School Board in Louisiana agreed to temporarily end single-sex classes at a middle school, resolving an ACLU lawsuit.

The ACLU said in a written statement that many programs in the Adrian district are based on disputed theories suggesting that boys and girls learn so differently that they need to be taught separately. Doug Bonney, legal director of the ACLU of Kansas and Western Missouri, said a growing body of research disproves that theory and finds that such programs actually reinforce sex stereotypes.

"There's no question that our schools deserve greater attention and investment, but resources shouldn't be wasted programs that simply do not work," Bonney said in a written statement. "Quick fixes that segregate our schools based on sex violate the law and disserve our kids. These half-baked programs help nobody."

Galen Sherwin, staff attorney with the ACLU Women's Rights Project, said schools should focus on efforts that really work instead of turning to what she described as "gimmicky programs."

"Supporters of sex-segregation make vague claims that these programs get results, but don't have the proof to back it up," she said in a written statement.