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UPDATE: No More Single Gender Classes In Wood County

By: Todd Baucher, Mollie Lair, Shannon Houser Email
By: Todd Baucher, Mollie Lair, Shannon Houser Email

UPDATE: 7/2/2013

The Wood County Board of Education agrees to a lawsuit settlement after a judge says the county can't implement single-sex classes.

The fight for equal classrooms began earlier this year. Representing a mother and her daughters, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against Wood County Schools saying the single gender classes at Van Devender Middle School were unconstitutional. Executive Director of WV ACLU, Brenda Green explained the lawsuit back in August. "We don't have a blanket opposition to single-sex classrooms. We have a concern about violations to Title 9. It prevents discrimination based on gender in public schools."

Now, the battle is over. A US judge approved a settlement banning single gender classes in Wood County.

Wood County Schools Superintendent, Dr. Law, explains the settlement. "The agreement says we will not have single gender classes for at least two years."

But the settlement more like a probationary period. After those two years, the school is free to bring back single gender classes, with some restrictions.

"Some oversight or an opportunity for the ACLU to come in and see that we are following the law with the classes," Dr. Law says.

The superintendent also adds, the reason the ban is only for two years, is most likely because the students at the center of the lawsuit will be graduated from the school then.

School officials say the classes are beneficial to students,and are hopeful they will return.

"I know that the teachers at Van Devender were very pleased with the effects and what was going on while this was in place and very sorry to see it have to be stopped because they were seeing some good things, improvements in discipline and behaviors and interest of students in classes,' says Dr. Law.

He adds, the judge ruled the way parents opt-out of single gender classes was against the law. The judge says parents must instead opt-in to those classes. It's a rule Dr. Law says wasn't very clear, but they will follow should they bring back single gender classes in 2015.

They must also give notice before any single-sex programs are implemented through the 2018-2019 school year.

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UPDATE: 7/2/13

A decision on single gender classes concerning Van Devender Middle School. The Wood County Board of Education has agreed not to implement single-sex classes in schools for at least two years.

The agreement settles a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the mother of three female students at Van Devender Middle School.

Van Devender had wanted to separate reading, math, social studies and science classes by gender.

The lawsuit filed in 2012 alleged that single-sex classes violate the U.S. Constitution and federal gender equality laws.

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UPDATE: 6/26/2012 10:47 pm

Van Devender Middle School changed to single-gender classes two years ago. But after drawing criticism from the ACLU Principal Stephen Taylor is presenting evidence on why this teaching method is effective.

The Wood County Board of Education will make the final decision.

"I thought they were very supportive. I think obviously we need to sit down and make some hard choices, but regardless of what the outcome is we will do whatever we think is best for the students whether it be gender-based or non gender-based," says Taylor.

Taylor says grades are up and disciplinary action is down among students. But board members say these statistics aren't long term.

"Well I think the main thing to state about the information he presented this evening is we have a very limited amount of data to work with at this point. It's difficult to whether the scores are improving or not improving with just a couple of years data. Essentially right now it looks flat, but it's hard to say," says Superintendent Dr. James Law.

The ACLU is threatening legal action. Potentially costing the school system more than $10,000.

But the board is willing to defend this teaching method if it's truly beneficial.

"I think the main thing we would like to consider which we may not get that opportunity is, is it really helping students? And we may not have the opportunity to use that as one of our determinants. But we'll look at the benefits that we are seeing and try to judge whether that's enough," says Dr. Law.

Some parents and even upcoming students think the benefits speak for themselves.

"It's terrible that my own son is the one that brought that up to me. I mean I told him what I saw and that they were going to put the boys and girls back together and he said, 'mom I don't want them to put the boys and girls back together because this is the first year I've made]
A's and B's and I can focus.'" says parent Naomi Hall.

"I think that would be better for the students cause it would be easier for the teachers to focus on their work and they would get a lot more progress done in the school year," says upcoming 6th grader Destiny Fleshman.

Not every parent is in support of the program. Some voiced their concerns at the meeting.

There is contingency plan in place for parents who don't want their kids to participate in the program. But none have chosen that option.

The Board of Education has yet to make a decision. Principal Taylor will present more findings at the next board meeting.
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Learning and discipline. Those are the two things educators cite as reasons Van Devender Middle School went to single-gender classes two years ago in certain grades. But a pupil we spoke to, who is about to attend middle school this year, cited another reason.

" It's real hard for the teachers to focus," says fifth-grader Destiny Fleshman, because the kids are sitting there talking about who they're dating or someone they like."

It has been followed in early middle school grades in four courses of study: language arts, math, science and social studies. Van Devender hopes to extend it in all of its three grades this coming school year. But first, the Wood County Board of Education is required to review the policy.

"According to No Child Left Behind, every two years, we have to make an extensive data collection, look at the results, and determine whether it should be continued or not continued," says Steve Taylor, Principal, Van Devender Middle School. "Basically, this is the preliminary report for that. The letter from the ACLU, coming when it did...I'm sure there will be some discussion of that, also."

That letter, sent to three West Virginia county school systems, stated the single-gender classes violated federal laws, and suggesting the aclu might go to court over the matter. One of the three, Kanawha County schools, has decided to discontinue the practice in the coming year. Taylor says public reaction is another matter.

"We believe there are kids coming from outside of Vandy, who want to be part of the program. In the two years we have instituted it, we have never had a parent come in and not want their child to participate, which is something that every parent has a right to do."

Taylor says that, at least initially, test scores and discipline problems have improved since the system went into place.


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