ACLU Cries Foul Over Separate Gender Classes in Florida

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida is seeking a federal investigation into single-gender classes occurring in three counties.

The organization is arguing that the courses are in violation of Title IX, a federal law banning gender discrimination in schools.  They claim the teachers of the courses are being asked to teach separate techniques to boys and girls in the classes.

“These are the kinds of ideas that have historically been used to push boys and girls onto very different educational tracks and are exactly what anti-discrimination laws are supposed to protect parents and students from … Students in Broward, Volusia and Hernando counties should all have the same opportunity to learn in the way that best fits their need, regardless of their sex,” Nancy Abudu, director of legal operations for the ACLU of Florida, said in a prepared statement.

According to the complaint, the school districts had no right to create single-gender classrooms and did not take individual student needs into account.  The ACLU is claiming the classrooms are an act of discrimination which reinforce stereotypical treatment of boys and girls and promote ridiculing treatment.

“District documents reveal that the basis for the single-sex classrooms was the pseudoscientific, gender essentialist theory that boys’ and girls’ brains are different from birth and develop differently and that those differences mean that they should be taught separately using radically different teaching methods,” the complaint states.

The ACLU is also arguing that the method has no proof of success and would like to see an end to the program that began in 2007.

Supporters of the method claim that genders have different learning styles and the program allows teachers to better meet the needs of each student.

On a national level, gender-specific classes are on the rise.  In 2002, only about a dozen schools offered the program, but as of 2011 that number has increased to 506 schools, according to the National Association for Choice in Education.

Also in question is Stetson University’s involvement with Volusia County.  The institution provides training and places student teachers in the program at Woodward Avenue Elementary.

Woodward Elementary currently has about 200 students from kindergarten through fourth grade enrolled in gender-specific classes.  Parents opt into the program, with co-ed classes offered at every grade level for those who do not wish to participate.

District officials declined comments, stating they had not had an appropriate length of time to review the complaint.

Florida lawmakers did approve new guidelines for gender-specific classes this spring, allowing for an expansion of the gender-specific classes.  Under the new guidelines, instructors must go through “professional development that includes scheduling and instructional strategies.”

Districts are required to report data concerning the classes to the Florida Department of Education, and offer a rationale for offering the courses.

A similar complaint is being filed by the ACLU concerning Hillsborough County Schools in Texas.

“Although educational innovation is desirable, an experiment in a public school that ignores fundamental civil rights and federal law cannot be allowed to continue,” according to the New York City-based organization’s complaint.