AUSTIN (CN) - The ACLU filed a civil rights complaint Wednesday with the U.S. Department of Education, challenging the Austin school district's decision to create two same-sex middle schools in a predominantly minority neighborhood.
The ACLU asked the Department of Education to investigate the Austin Independent School District's plan to revamp the struggling middle schools and assign boys and girls to separate campuses, where they will receive gender-specific teaching methods.
The two campuses under fire from the ACLU opened their doors last week as the Bertha Sadler Means Young Women's Leadership Academy and the Gus Garcia Young Men's Academy. The schools were targeted for restructuring because of their increasingly poor test scores and low graduation rates.
More than 94 percent of the students destined for gender-divided classrooms are Latino or black. The ACLU says the district's decision to implement the plan was based "on pseudoscientific claims and overly broad generalizations about sex difference."
It wants the Office for Civil Rights to determine whether the district's decision amounts to race and sex discrimination.
"The proposal for the two single-sex schools is premised in large part on the discredited notion that boys and girls learn and develop so differently that they should be separated and taught using different methods. The district's design for the schools thus contemplates the use of different teaching methods, environments, and even curricula in the boys' and girls' schools in order to 'tailor' them to boys' and girls' purportedly different learning styles," the Sept. 3 letter says.
It continues: "Under the pedagogical theory the district plans to employ at the two schools, girls are encouraged to work quietly and discuss their feelings and personal problems. They are expected to be cooperative and noncompetitive. Boys are encouraged to move around, engage in competition, and are not encouraged to discuss their feelings. These sex stereotypes limit opportunities for boys and girls alike."
The ACLU said it based its findings on documents obtained from the district through open records requests. It claims it found more evidence that suggests "race-based stereotypes, particularly about black boys played a role in the district's planning process."
The ACLU cites numerous AISD presentations about the plan to tailor teaching methods toward "gender-specific needs" such as "sex differences in learning."
The ACLU fears that single-sex schools will reinforce gender stereotyping that "violates the core principles of equality embodied in Title VI and IX."
"All students learn differently, and our public schools simply should not be in the business of making crude judgments about children's educational needs based solely on whether they are a boy or a girl," said Galen Sherwin, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Women's Rights Project. "We are calling upon the United States Department of Education not only to investigate, but also to make clear to schools across the country that sex segregation based on these types of blatant sex stereotypes violates the law."