Mother sues Wood County school board to end single-sex classes - Business, Government Legal News from throughout WV

Mother sues Wood County school board to end single-sex classes

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The ACLU of West Virginia on behalf of a Parkersburg mother is taking Wood County school officials to court for a program implemented in one of the county's middle school's that separates certain classes by sex.

The suit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of West Virginia on behalf of Jane Doe and her three children who attend Van Devender Middle School.

Defendants were listed as the Wood County Board of Education, Superintendent Patrick Law, principal Stephen Taylor and former assistant principal Penny Tonelli Coleman.

For the past two years, the suit states, girls and boys of certain grades attending Van Devender Middle School have been separated in reading, math, social studies and sciences courses.

"Supporters of these programs make completely unfounded generalizations about boys and girls, but offer no proof that these strategies pay off academically," Sarah Rogers, staff attorney with the ACLU of West Virginia said in a news release.

"What has been proven, however, is that these programs foster stereotypes and hurt kids who don't fit the idea of how a stereotypical boy or girl is supposed to learn and behave."

The suit alleges school officials implemented the middle school's program based on "impermissible and inaccurate stereotypes." Teaching methods, the suit states, are tailored to differences in the ways each sex learns.

"The stated justification for the single sex education program at Van Devender as presented to the (Wood County Board of Education) was that students of both sexes were lagging behind their peers in Wood County based on the percentage of boys and girls testing as proficient on the state standardized WESTEST assessment exam," the suit states.

The suit states the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia sent a letter to the county's board of education in May identifying legal violations. Plaintiffs allege this program likely will continue into the 2012-2013 school year.

The suit seeks to enjoin Wood County school officials from separating classes based on sex and to award plaintiffs damages.

The suit alleges plaintiffs were not informed or given an alternative to the program. The suit alleges participation in the program should be voluntary. 

In addition to different teaching methods, the suit alleges the classrooms' atmospheres also differ. In the boys' classroom, the suit further states, lights are brighter, the temperature is cooler, boys are allowed to move around in class and boys are allowed to sit in bean bag chairs.

Meanwhile the girls' classroom, the suit says, is "dimly lit," the classroom is a warmer temperature, girls are not allowed to move around in class and they do not sit in beanbag chairs.

The mother alleges the differences in classrooms make it difficult for her daughters to learn. One of the plaintiff's daughters, the suit alleges, has attention deficit disorder and is "frequently reprimanded" for moving around in class. The plaintiff alleges that several times, her daughter has been "punished" for misbehaving by being sent to the boys' classroom.

The suit alleges the daughter's grades have "dropped substantially" since the program's implementation.

Another one of the plaintiff's daughters, the suit further states, is legally blind. The plaintiff alleges her daughter has difficulty reading in the "dimly lit" classroom.

The mother's third daughter, the suit continues, also has poor eyesight that requires "strong contact lenses and prescription glasses." The suit alleges that after spending a year in the girls' classroom, the daughter required a stronger prescription for glasses and contact lenses.

"Not all girls are alike," the suit states. "Research demonstrates that the psychological and learning differences between individual girls are far larger than the average psychological or learning differences between girls and boys."

The suit states the mother does not want to send her daughters to a different school because it would be "academically and psychologically detrimental."

"Sex is an imprecise proxy for psychological, learning, emotional and developmental differences in adolescents. Psychological research demonstrates that, on average, boys and girls are psychologically more alike than different," the lawsuit says.

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