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Iowa Officials Told To Halt Single-Sex Programs

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The Iowa Department of Education has given the red light to efforts to separate boys and girls in some classes.

Ted Stilwill, the department's director, advised two public school districts and one private school to cease single-sex programs that are under way or in the planning stages. Federal and state civil rights laws bar separating students by sex, he said in letters to the schools on May 29.

The department had been discussing the appropriateness of such programs with the schools, and had determined that it could not grant the waivers necessary to allow the programs to continue, the letters said. "I would be deeply concerned about the precedent that would be set by granting such a waiver," Mr. Stilwill wrote.

Single-sex education has drawn attention in recent years as a way to address specific problems in groups of boys or girls. But researchers are divided about its appropriateness, and such programs are fraught with legal questions. (See related story, page 19.)

Mr. Stilwill's letter was based on advice from the state attorney general's office, said Klark Jessen, a spokesman for the department.

Mr. Jessen said the department was willing to grant waivers of certain education-related regulations but could not do so for civil rights laws. "We might jeopardize some or all of our federal funding," he said.

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits sex discrimination in education programs receiving federal funding.

One of the Iowa school districts, West Des Moines, informed Mr. Stilwill in a June 3 letter that it would discontinue a pilot program that provides voluntary single-sex instruction for one hour a day in two elementary schools.

Determining a Response

Donna Wilkin, an assistant superintendent in West Des Moines, said in an interview last week that the district had merely sought to investigate the learning needs of boys and girls. "We would like to be able to do action research in the district," she said.

But Mr. Jessen said the West Des Moines schools had implemented the program for the 1995-96 school year against the department's wishes.

The department also wrote to the 2,300-student Mount Pleasant schools, which had proposed voluntary groupings of middle school students by sex for math and science classes.

Superintendent John Roederer said last week that the school board would meet June 10 to decide on a response to the department. But he said it was unlikely that Mount Pleasant would continue any further.

The department sent a third letter to the private Maharishi School of the Age of the Enlightenment in Fairfield. The school, could lose its state accreditation if it maintains single-sex classes, the department warned.

Officials at the school were set to meet late last week to decide on a response.

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