The American Civil Liberties Union is challenging single-gender instruction programs in one of the Florida’s largest urban school districts, arguing they are run in a way that violates federal laws against gender discrimination.
The ACLU filed the federal administrative complaint Tuesday, the day after Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill creating a new framework for single-gender schools throughout the state.
The complaint asks the U.S. Education Department to investigate Hillsborough County’s single-gender instruction, which includes all-boys and all-girls magnet academies for middle school students and individual classes at other schools.
It argues the program violates Title IX of the federal education code. The law does not bar all single-gender education programs, but the ACLU contends that Hillsborough’s program does not meet federal requirements and is “premised upon, and promotes, harmful stereotypes.”
“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,” Galen Sherwin, senior staff attorney of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, said in a press release announcing the complaint.
The legislation approved by Scott on Monday is intended to create a framework for expanding similar programs around the state. It received bipartisan support during the recently concluded legislative session.
Two other urban school districts – in Broward and Duval Counties – could receive additional funding in the state budget to train teachers at single-gender schools.
The ACLU cites the recent legislative moves in a letter to the state Department of Education, in which it repeats a two-year-old request for, among other things, a “full investigation into existing single-sex programs operating within the state of Florida.”
School district spokesman Steve Hegarty said student performance was improving at the two single-gender magnet programs, which both improved their A-F grades by two letters last school year. The programs would not have grown if parents had not felt they were good options, he said.
“These are parent choices, and parents think it’s a very good decision,” he said.