PITTSBURGH - Pittsburgh Public Schools has agreed to stop its practice of segregating students by sex at Westinghouse Academy by February 1, 2012. The agreement is part of a settlement reached with the American Civil Liberties Union, American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, and the Women's Law Project (WLP). The groups were on the verge of filing a complaint challenging the school district's single-sex education program, arguing that it was based on gender stereotypes and violated federal laws, including Title IX.
"We are very pleased that PPS is taking a step toward genuine reform by voluntarily eliminating what we believe to be illegal sex discrimination," said Sara Rose, Staff Attorney for the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "Now the district can concentrate on strategies that are known to improve students' academic performance, like smaller classes, greater parental involvement and more attention to curriculum content"
One of the worst performing schools in the district, Westinghouse Academy began the academic year as a co-ed school with sex-segregated classes after the district's plans to create two single-sex academies fell through due to low enrollment. Parents in the school's catchment area were given the choice of having their children participate in single-sex classes or transferring them to a school several miles away.
Since learning in July 2010 of the school district's intention to create some form of single-sex education, the ACLU of Pennsylvania, ACLU, and WLP repeatedly warned the district that plans to segregate students by sex violated Title IX as well as the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.
"The Westinghouse plan was founded upon gender stereotypes about boys' and girls' learning styles, interests, and abilities," said Susan Frietsche, Senior Staff Attorney with the Women's Law Project's Western Pennsylvania office in downtown Pittsburgh. "We are very pleased that the District has disavowed these stereotypes and will be taking steps to abolish them District-wide."
Pittsburgh Public Schools had planned to train Westinghouse teachers using Why Gender Matters by Dr. Leonard Sax, a proponent of gender segregation in public education who claims that boys and girls learn so differently that they need to be educated separately. His theories include the ideas that girls perform poorly under stress, and so should not be timed during exams; boys should be given Nerf baseball bats to hit things to relieve tension; and that boys who like to read, avoid sports and have close female friends should be forced to spend time with "normal" boys.
These theories were refuted in a recent article in the journal Science that showed sex segregation did not contribute to increased academic performance and, in fact, harmed students by making these stereotypes more acceptable.
"The Westinghouse program was one of many across the country that are turning to sex segregation in the hopes that it will improve failing schools," said Galen Sherwin, staff attorney for the ACLU Women's Rights Project. "This Pittsburgh School District's abandonment of this program should send a message that separating kids by sex will not turn a failing school around. Co-education is not the problem with our education system, and sex segregation is not the solution."
Pittsburgh joins several other school districts that have recently abandoned single-sex education. In a recent case, the Vermillion Parish School Board also decided to end gender segregation in a Louisiana public school system following a lawsuit by the ACLU, and Philadelphia school district officials have recently recommended closure or consolidation of three single-gender public schools, thus phasing out most gender-segregated public schooling in that city.
In addition to stopping the Westinghouse Academy sex-segregation program, Pittsburgh Public Schools has agreed to notify the ACLU and WLP if it intends to revive sex-segregated activities at any of its schools in the next three years.