Portland – The ACLU of Maine Foundation applauds the decision of Sanford School Committee at a meeting last night to abandon single-sex classrooms in the fifth and sixth grades at Willard School.  The ACLU of Maine Foundation had requested that the school department abandon the program when documents released under the Freedom of Access Act demonstrated that the program was based on harmful gender stereotypes about the supposedly different learning styles of boys and girls.

“We welcome the Sanford School District’s decision to stop sex segregation at Willard School,” said Zachary Heiden, Legal Director of the ACLU of Maine Foundation.  “Children have the right to be educated based on their needs as individuals, not based on their sex."

Documents produced in response to the ACLU of Maine FOAA request suggest how improper gender stereotypes were incorporated into the gender-segregated classrooms: for example, the Willard School December News describes the sixth-grade girls class: “young ladies have developed some important routine [sic] for themselves one [sic] is a daily cup of cocoa as they read the Portland Press Herald and discuss local, national and global events.” Over on the boys’ side, there are different routines: “The class has created an exercise area within the class and all the young men have the opportunity to exercise . . .Ms. Wagenfield’s class has signed up with the NFL Experience which is a free program sponsored by the National Football League where students can earn points towards prizes by tracking and increasing their daily activity.” 

“Schools play an important role in shaping how young people view themselves and others,” said Shenna Bellows, Executive Director of the ACLU of Maine Foundation.  “Sanford’s decision to abandon this unscientific program will have a positive impact on our children’s future.”

Studies show that separating boys and girls does not improve academic performance; it simply increases gender stereotyping.  A 2011 article in the prestigious journal Science stated, “There is no well-designed research showing that single-sex education improves students' academic performance, but there is evidence that sex segregation increases gender stereotyping and legitimizes institutional sexism.” 

“The United States Constitution protects equal access to education for boys and girls, and that means not promoting harmful gender stereotypes,” said Shenna Bellows, Executive Director of the ACLU of Maine Foundation.  “There is no reason that students can’t be offered a quality academic program where they learn to build friendships and work collaboratively with all of their peers, not just students who are the same sex.”