Louisiana Girl Fights Against Sex-Segregated Classrooms, Wins

Thanks to a suit filed by a 13-year-old girl and her parents, the Livingston Parish school district will not go forward with its plans to offer only single-sex classes in the 2006-2007 school year. The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit against the Livingston Parish School Board on behalf of Michelle Selden and her parents on August 2, contending that the Livingston Parish’s proposed sex-segregated policy was based on gender stereotypes and faulty research, and was in violation of Title IX, which protects against sex discrimination in any educational program or activity that receives federal financial assistance, as well as the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause of the US Constitution. The School Board agreed not implement sex segregated classes during the 2006-7 academic year.

The principal of Southside Junior High School said at a meeting for parents last May that the decision to switch to sex-segregated classes was based on the works of popular writers on gender differences who believe that girls and boys should be taught differently because of some average physiological differences. For example, one of the authors whose work was used to justify the school district’s proposed school reorganization and teacher training believes that “because of biological differences in the brain, boys need to practice pursuing and killing prey, while girls need to practice taking care of babies,” according to the lawsuit.

If the sex-segregated program had been allowed to continue, all junior high classes in the Livingston Parish school district would have been separated by sex, and students who did not wish to attend sex-segregated classes would have no alternative public school to attend, nor would the student be allowed to transfer schools, according to the lawsuit. Selden’s father, Darren, supported his daughter’s belief that a sex-segregated school would be detrimental to her education. He wrote in his statement to the court, “I believe that if my daughter is forced to attend sex-segregated classes that are taught based on stereotypes about how girls learn, that she may very well be harmed by this discriminatory environment.”

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ACLU 8/3/06; Associated Press 8/2/06; The Advocate 8/4/06; Selden vs. Livingston Parish School Board; Statement of Michelle Selden 8/2/06; Statement of Darren Selden 8/2/06

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