AClU targets same-sex classrooms

Tuesday , May 22, 2012 - 7:40 AM

Lauren Roth

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida is targeting schoolsfor what it says are illegally discriminatory single-sex classrooms.

On Monday, the advocacy organization sent a letter to the Florida Department of Education demanding that it enforce state and federal laws that require single-sex classrooms to be voluntary and necessary for academic or other reasons.

It said that "many" of the single-gender classrooms in 16 Florida school districts last year might be illegal.

"Usually when there is a single-sex program, they are using sex stereotypes," said Mie Lewis, a senior staff attorney with the national ACLU, which sent similar letters to school districts in five other states Monday. "Any child subject to treatment based on sex stereotypes is being discriminated against," Lewis said.

But there is some evidence that single-gender classrooms improve performance and behavior, said a Stetson University professor who has been studying single-gender classrooms at Woodward Avenue Elementary in Volusia County, Fla., for eight years. During the 2007-08 year, boys in single-gender classes at the school outperformed their peers in mixed-gender classes by 30 percentage points in reading, and girls in single-gender classes outperformed their mixed-gender class peers by 20 percentage points on a math test, said Kathy Piechura-Couture, an education professor.

The performance gap between single-sex and mixed-gender classes narrowed after the first few years as teachers throughout the school adopted gender-based techniques, such as allowing boys to move around more, said Piechura-Couture.

"This should be an option," she said of single-gender classrooms. "The parents love it."

The ACLU letter, which could lead to a formal complaint or lawsuit, specifically cited several programs in Florida the organization thought might be illegal. Its letter said an all-male program for at-risk third-graders at Riverdale Elementary in Orange County last year could be illegal because students were placed into the class by the school. The class does not exist this year.

The letter also cited Lake Shore Middle School in Palm Beach County for not giving parents an explicit opt-in or opt-out option for single-gender classes and Edward Bok Academy in Polk County, a charter school, for not offering reading and math courses in mixed-gender classrooms.

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(c)2012 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)

Visit The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.) at www.OrlandoSentinel.com

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