Under ACLU pressure, Missouri school drops single-sex classes

ADRIAN, Mo Wed Nov 23, 2011 1:51pm EST

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ADRIAN, Mo (Reuters) - A small public school district in Missouri said on Wednesday it will stop offering voluntary single-gender classes after it came under pressure from a civil liberties group that opposes them.

The Adrian R-III District became the latest school system to bow to pressure from the American Civil Liberties Union, which claims that boy- and girl-only classes are unconstitutional unless they meet certain strict standards.

The ACLU had threatened legal action unless the classes were discontinued.

In a statement Wednesday, Steven Book, an attorney for the Adrian school system, said that while the district "does not necessarily agree with ACLU's legal analysis or conclusions regarding research on this topic" it will accede to the group's request.

On Tuesday, Book sent a letter to the ACLU of Kansas and Western Missouri, promising to end most single-sex classes in January at the start of the next semester.

Adrian created some single-sex classes this year, mostly in grades 6 through 8 but also in higher grades, said Kirk Eidson, district superintendent. Eidson said administrators thought it would be in the best interest of the students' education.

"There were some behavioral issues that impacted learning," Eidson said. Indications are that the single-gender classes have created fewer distractions and that students are doing better, Eidson said.

The classes were initially set up without consulting parents. But parents were later allowed to move their children out of the single-sex classes -- though only four did, Eidson said.

Schools across the country adopted single-sex classes in recent years after the U.S. Department of Education -- spurred by research suggesting boys and girls sometimes learn better when taught separately -- issued regulations allowing them.

But the ACLU and some researchers have challenged the scientific evidence behind the push and school systems in Pennsylvania, Louisiana and Wisconsin have recently set aside single-sex education plans at the ACLU's urging.

Doug Bonney, legal director for the ACLU of Kansas and Western Missouri, welcomed Adrian's decision to back down without a fight.

"The is just no scientific support for single-sex education," Bonney said Wednesday. "It's based on sex stereotypes that are ridiculous."

The ACLU has pointed to a recent study in the journal Science which calls single-sex education "deeply misguided." The article describes as "pseudoscience" studies used to support single-sex education.

Federal Title IX regulations require that single-sex classes "be based on specific identifiable objectives, must be completely voluntary and must ensure that a substantially equal co-educational option is available," the ACLU stated in a letter it sent to the Adrian district on November 18.

In an interview, Bonney said private schools can continue to have single-sex classes without risking an ACLU challenge provided they do not receive federal funds for the courses.

(Editing by James B. Kelleher and Greg McCune)

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