The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a complaint this week with the US Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) against the Hillsborough County Public School district in Florida. The complaint claims that the district’s single-sex classrooms violate Title IX – the federal amendment that prohibits sex discrimination in education – and calls for a federal investigation of the district.
The Hillsborough County Public School district is the second largest school district in Florida and one of the largest in the United States. It has operated sex-segregated classes in 16 coeducational schools and two completely single-sex middle schools since 2009, justifying the sex-segregation with pseudoscience stereotypes about how girls and boys learn differently and paying as much as $100,000 to outside consultants to promote the stereotypes.
“The Hillsborough School District has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer funds to implement a hidden curriculum promoting the theory that boys and girls are so fundamentally different that they need to be taught using different teaching methods,” said Galen Sherwin, Senior Staff Attorney of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “The truth is that every student learns differently, and our public schools should not be in the business of making crude judgments about children’s educational needs based solely on whether they are a boy or a girl.”
Although major meta-analyses of quality research have found no benefit to single-sex classrooms and that sex stereotyping is harmful in various ways, teachers in the Hillsborough School District were trained in teaching methods based on stereotypes. For example, the district encouraged teachers in boys’ classes to be louder and have higher expectations, while teachers in girls’ classrooms were expected to be calmer and less critical. In one instance, a boys class was allowed to play with electronics if they behaved well, while girls were given dabs of perfume for completing a task correctly.
A bill signed by Florida Governor Rick Scott last week will spread this teaching method throughout the state by requiring training and providing funding for teachers of “gender specific” classrooms throughout Florida. HB 313 will go into effect on July 1.
Between 2007 and 2010, more than 1,000 public K-12 schools in the US reported having single-sex academic classes. Author Susan McGee Bailey, former head of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College, writes in the Fall 2013 issue of Ms. magazine that sex segregation in public schools, often based on pseudoscience, creates inequities in education and increases discrimination and sex stereotyping. “The U.S. has moved far beyond the days when girls were excluded from many educational options,” writes Bailey. “Rolling back the progress of the past century on the mistaken notion that sex segregation will provide better learning opportunities for girls and boys in this country is a worn-out fallacy that has no place in the 21st century.”
The ACLU filed a similar complaint against a middle school in Wisconsin in January.
Check out Feminist Majority Foundation’s Education Equality Toolkit to learn more about sex segregation in schools.
Media Resources: ACLU 3/28/13, 5/13/14; Florida House of Representatives; Feminist Newswire 1/23/14, 2/6/14; Ms. Magazine Fall 2013; Feminist Majority Foundation