Last week, the Department of Education released a very important guidance document for schools looking to offer single-sex classes. The crux of it is great news, and very much in line with what the ACLU has been saying for decades: single-sex education programs based on sex stereotypes are unlawful.
The language used by the department in its guidance is particularly strong. It states that students may not be separated based on sex due to “overbroad generalizations about the different talents, capacities, or preferences” of either sex and that any evidence used to justify separating students based on sex “may not rely on these overly broad generalizations.”
Avid followers of our blog may remember that in 2012 the ACLU of Maine demanded that the Sanford School District halt its single-sex program that appeared to violate federal law by relying on harmful gender stereotypes (for example, the girls would drink hot chocolate and read the news, while the boys would spend the same time taking part in an NFL exercise program). Following our demand, the school committee quickly voted to abandon the program, for which we publicly applauded them.
Nationwide, the ACLU has been fighting against this form of sex segregation for many years. In a campaign titled “Teach Kids, Not Stereotypes,” we’ve stressed that outdated pseudo-science showing that boys and girls are “hardwired” to learn differently is just that: outdated and discredited. In addition to the legal and scientific problems with this type of teaching, there are serious educational and pedagogical concerns as well.
Yet despite all the evidence, the push for sex segregation in schools continues. Just last year, we testified in Augusta against a proposed bill that would have allowed Maine public schools to segregate classrooms by sex. The bill never made it out of committee and hopefully with this new guidance from the Department of Education it won’t ever come back.
The guidance also includes an important protection for transgender students. The guidance states that if a single-sex classroom is deemed to be lawful under the new rigorous standards, transgender students must be allowed to participate in the class consistent with their gender identity. Earlier this year, similar guidance was given to clarify that claims of discrimination based on gender identity are covered under Title IX.
These are wonderful developments and further evidence that the tide is shifting when it comes to sex segregation in schools, and, at least slowly, in favor of greater recognition for the rights of transgender students. We’ll continue to monitor what goes on in Maine and to step in when necessary, but with the Department of Education laying down clear guidance we are hopeful that any remaining schools wishing to use stereotypes as an excuse to segregate will catch up with the times and stop treating boys and girls like different types of learners just because of their sex.