NEW ORLEANS – The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Louisiana appeared before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit today challenging sex-segregation in core curricular classes at a public middle school in Vermilion Parish, Louisiana. The ACLU filed the appeal on behalf of two students at Rene A. Rost Middle School and their mother on the grounds that the program illegally discriminates against both boys and girls in violation of Title IX, which prohibits discrimination based on sex and sex stereotypes, and the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee to equal protection.
"This program was implemented based on outmoded stereotypes and discredited theories about differences in the way boys and girls learn," said Lenora M. Lapidus, Director of the ACLU Women's Rights Project. "Perpetuating gender stereotypes in sex-segregated classes limits opportunities for boys and girls alike. There is no evidence that separating boys and girls results in improved academic performance. The only evidence in this case – the students' actual report card grades – shows that academic performance declined during sex-segregation."
The original lawsuit was filed on behalf of two girls, Jill and Joan Doe, who were placed in single-sex classrooms at the school, despite their parents' wishes that they be placed in coeducational classes. When the ACLU objected to the mandatory sex-segregation policy, the school district amended the plan to establish a nominally coeducational option. However, the only "coeducational" option was a class with a disproportionate number of students with special educational requirements. By contrast, the "gifted and talented" students were disproportionately placed into the single-sex classrooms.
"The law requires that all children should have equal access to educational programs, regardless of their sex," said Katie Schwartzmann, Legal Director of the ACLU of Louisiana. "Children should receive an appropriate education based on their individual needs, and not simply on whether they're boys or girls."
In April, a district court denied the ACLU's request for an order blocking the program, ignoring claims of violations under Title IX. The court found that despite the fact that the program had been wrongfully implemented and was based on "extremely flawed" data, the school board did not violate the Equal Protection Clause simply because it did not intend to harm the students. The judge ordered that the program be modified.
The ACLU appealed the decision in June, arguing that the court's findings were wrong and that the proposed modifications would not address the fundamental inequality of the program.
"The district court's ruling failed to apply the correct legal standard under the Constitution and ignored the plaintiffs' claims under Title IX altogether," said Mark W. Friedman, cooperating attorney from Debevoise & Plimpton LLP. "Title IX prohibits sex-segregation in coed schools receiving federal funds and the Constitution requires the existence of an extremely persuasive justification for separating boys and girls in public schools that simply does not exist at Rost. The district court's modifications to this program will not change the fact that it is unlawful and rooted in faulty data and discredited theories."