School Climate & Safety

Some Schools Jump the Regulatory Gun, Offering Single-Sex Classes

By Michelle R. Davis — September 04, 2002 2 min read
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Public schools anticipating a change in the federal policy that discourages single-sex education have already started this fall to separate girls and boys for subjects like math and English, and even for lunch.

But existing federal regulations still effectively ban the practice. Department of Education officials say they’ll investigate cases where they receive complaints on the matter, even though they expect new proposed regulations to be released in the next few months.

While a Department of Education commission is examining how Title IX affects males and females on the athletic fields, this other aspect of the same law—equality in the classroom—is slowly being tested across the country.

This year at Southern Leadership Academy, a public middle school in the 95,000-student Jefferson County school district in Kentucky, August brought not only a new school year, but also a new structure. Principal Anita Jones decided to separate boys and girls in her struggling Louisville school.

“We had children who showed potential and capabilities, but they weren’t demonstrating that on tests,” she said. “What we were doing wasn’t working.”

Ms. Jones studied several other schools that had recently tried single-sex education, and with the unanimous blessing of her school’s faculty and the local school council, she decided to try it.

Though the school year is only a few weeks old, Ms. Jones said she has high hopes for the change, which splits the school’s 923 students into male and female classes for everything but band and chorus. “It’s too early too tell, but teachers are already saying they’re getting more writing out of the boys,” Ms. Jones said, adding that she’s had fewer discipline problems as well.

A Work in Progress

But Ms. Jones also knows that Title IX, the 1972 federal law that prohibits schools from discriminating on the basis of sex, discourages single-sex education in publicly financed institutions. Regulations interpreting the statute make it almost impossible for public schools to organize single-gender education, yet Ms. Jones and other principals across the country nonetheless are opting for it.

That’s because in May, the Education Department announced that it was reviewing those regulations and had plans to rewrite them to ease the strict interpretation, a move that would encourage schools to offer single-gender education.

But those regulations haven’t been rewritten yet, said the department’s general counsel, Brian W. Jones. The 60- day public-comment period has closed, but officials still must draft the proposed regulations. Mr. Jones said last week he expected the draft rules to be available for comment within the next several months.

Hold the Phone

In the meantime, the existing regulations are still in effect. Mr. Jones said that the Education Department would continue to enforce them, and that if a complaint were filed against a school over single-sex arrangements, the department would be forced to investigate.

Nancy Zirkin, the director of public policy and government relations for the Washington-based American Association of University Women, said schools should not be so eager to separate girls and boys.

“What they’re doing is totally against existing regulations,” she said of schools that have adopted such policies. “We’re very troubled by this.”

Ms. Jones of Southern Leadership Academy said she was willing to take the risk in her school.

“We’re making sure anything boys have access to, girls have access to,” the principal said. “The Bush administration supports this.”

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