Alabama School District Agrees to End Illegal Sex Segregation

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Maria Archuleta, ACLU, (212) 519-7808 or 549-2666; media@aclu.org
Nikki Cox, ACLU of Alabama, (334) 265-2754, x205

Alabama School District Agrees to End Illegal Sex Segregation

Policy Change Comes After Notice From ACLU

MOBILE, Ala. - The
Mobile County School System has agreed to stop sex segregation in
public schools after being notified by the American Civil Liberties
Union that its sex segregated programs were illegal and discriminatory.
Late last evening, the Board of School Commissioners of Mobile County
approved a settlement agreement changing the policy.

"While schools might think that sex
segregated classes will be a quick fix for failing schools, in reality
they are inherently unequal and shortchange both boys and girls," said
Emily Martin, Deputy Director of the ACLU Women's Rights Program. "We
hope that now Mobile County will focus on efforts that we know can
improve all students' education, like smaller classes and more teacher
training and parental involvement."

Without notifying parents, the
Mobile County School System segregated by sex the entire student body
of Hankins Middle School by sex for the 2008-2009 school year. The
policy went so far as to bar boys and girls from even speaking to each
other in school hallways. Outraged parents contacted the ACLU in
November 2008, after the school denied their earlier requests to resume
coeducational classes. At least seven other schools in Mobile County
also segregated students by sex; some of these schools did not provide
a coeducational option for students or parents.

Under the settlement agreement,
Hankins Middle School will immediately cease to segregate students by
sex in elective classes, at lunchtime and all other nonacademic events.
Beginning in the fall of 2009, all courses will be integrated in every
school in the county and no school will institute any sex segregated
programs for the next three years. For the 2012-2013 academic year and
two years thereafter, if Mobile County plans to institute new
single-sex programs in any school, it must first notify the ACLU before
implementing them.

Under the sex segregation program at
Hankins Middle School this year, teachers had been instructed to treat
boys and girls differently. At a teacher training, teachers were
informed that boys should be taught about "heroic behavior" but that
girls should learn "good character." Teachers were told that male
hormone levels directly relate to success at "traditional male tasks"
but that when stress levels rise in an adolescent girl's brain, "other
things shut down." A story in the Mobile Press-Register reported that a
language arts exercise for sixth grade girls involved asking the girls
to use as many descriptive words as possible to describe their dream
wedding cake, while the boys were asked to brainstorm action verbs used
in sports.

According to Mark Jones, whose son
Jacob attends Hankins Middle School, the school principal told him that
the changes at Hankins were necessary because boys' and girls' brains
are so different that they needed different curriculums.

"Segregating boys and girls didn't
make things any better for our children; in fact, it made things
worse," said Jones. "Our kids were basically being taught ideas about
gender that come from the dark ages."

In a letter sent to the school board
in November 2008, the ACLU and the ACLU of Alabama informed the Mobile
County School System that mandatory sex segregation in public schools
violates Title IX of the Education Amendments, the Equal Education
Opportunities Act and the U.S. Constitution. The Mobile County school
board initially seemed receptive to halting single-sex programs in
county schools, but it wasn't until the ACLU threatened to file a
lawsuit that the school board finally agreed to reintegrate. 

"I really wish the school had
checked in with parents before it went ahead and separated all the boys
from the girls," said Terry Stevens, whose son attends Hankins Middle
School. "I'm happy that next year the school will be integrated but
very disappointed that my son will have had an entire year without any
academic classes with girls. The real world is integrated, and it's
important to both me and my son that he learn in a coed environment."

A recent review of existing data by
the U.S. Department of Education showed that there is no consistent
evidence that segregating students by sex improves learning by either
sex. Yet, school districts across the country are experimenting with
sex segregated programs, which all too often rely on questionable
"brain science" theories based on outdated gender stereotypes that
suggest that teachers should treat boys and girls radically differently.

"We're very pleased that the Mobile
County school board agreed to end mandatory sex segregation," said
Allison Neal, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Alabama. "These
programs are not only clearly against the law, but also diminish real
life experiences and diversity in public schools."

In addition to the ACLU,
organizations that have opposed sex segregation in schools include the
national NAACP, the National Education Association and the American
Association of University Women.

Attorneys who worked on the
settlement agreement include Martin and Lenora Lapidus from the ACLU
Women's Rights Project and Neal from the ACLU of Alabama.

A copy of the settlement agreement is available at: www.aclu.org/womensrights/edu/39130lgl20090324.html

More information on the ACLU Women's Rights Project work on sex segregation is available at: www.aclu.org/womensrights/edu/34504res20080228.html

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

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