At Arlington Community High School in Indianapolis, public school officials are separating male and female students even in the hallways, cafeterias, and on buses, in what they claim to be an effort to boost academic performance. Students say that they rarely see those of the opposite sex on school property.
According to the Indiana Department of Education, no other public school in the country has segregated students by gender to such an extent. Other schools, including one in Vermillion Parish, Louisiana, and one in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, have suspended or abandoned single sex education programs this year. The Vermillion Parish school board decision came after a court found, in a case argued by the ACLU, inadequate justification for segregating students by sex and other violations of Title IX, a law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in all levels of education. Similarly, the Lancaster school district rescinded the pilot program after “blistering” criticism of the blatant segregation and racial stereotyping.
Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal, stated, “Such extreme restrictions are reminiscent of the separation of the sexes in Saudi Arabia and in Taliban-like regimes. These restrictions are clearly in violation of Title IX and have nothing to do with academic performance.”
The Feminist Majority Foundation is currently working to rescind the 2006 Bush-era Title IX regulations that make it significantly easier to allow single-sex classrooms in public schools (pdf). Research studies indicate that such rigid separation of sexes leads to sex discrimination and sex stereotyping to the detriment of academic learning. Even the Bush administration’s examination of academic performance studies found the results to be “equivocal.” Where there are performance differences, they can be attributed to increased resources, smaller class sizes and additional teacher training, rather than sex segregation. Moreover, public single-sex classes or schools are rarely comparable for both sexes and can lead to gross violations of Title IX.
The segregation of students by sex in disadvantaged and predominantly African American schools could also include violations of the civil rights of students based on race, since white-dominated suburban schools are rarely, if ever, segregated on the basis of sex and generally have higher academic performance. Co-ed schools in the suburbs show that sex-segregation has nothing to do with academic performance, rather economic status does. Poor students inadequately fed and housed have a more difficult time staying in and performing in school because they are preoccupied with searching for employment and economic survival. Recent poverty studies show that in the United States, African American children are twice as likely to be living in poverty as their white counterparts. Thirty-nine percent of African American children and thirty-five percent of Latino children are living in poverty.