The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) today requested the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights investigate the Austin Independent School District (AISD) for unlawful sex and racial discrimination against students in two of the city’s lowest-income middle school. The complaint, based on records obtained by the ACLU, raises concerns that AISD used widely debunked pseudo-science about differences in the way boys and girls learn, as well as harmful gender and racial stereotypes, to justify the separation of students by sex at the Garcia Young Men’s Leadership Academy and the Bertha Sadler Means Young Women’s Leadership Academy (formerly Pearce Middle School). Students zoned for the two schools were automatically assigned to the new “single-gender” program at Garcia and Sadler middle schools, without a meaningful opportunity to opt out.
“We can all agree that too many schools are failing our children and need reforms, but why implement a blanket separation of boys and girls in one part of the city, when the school district itself has acknowledged there’s no clear evidence that this approach actually helps children learn?” said Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas. “Research shows that students succeed when they have a high-quality education and parents who are engaged and making choices for them. Let’s focus on ensuring all students have access to the same proven educational opportunities, rather than turn to bad science for a ‘quick-fix’.”
Neighborhoods zoned for Garcia and Sadler schools are composed of 97.4 and 94.1 percent Hispanic and Black school-age children, respectively.
“Unfortunately, single-sex school proponents increasingly target schools in minority communities through unsupported claims that they’ll help close the achievement gaps for boys of color,” said Courtney Bowie, senior staff attorney for the ACLU Racial Justice Program. “These assertions, much like those we saw in internal AISD documents, rely on generalizations about black boys, such as that they’re difficult to control and have more discipline problems. But there is no valid evidence that separating students by sex improves academic achievement for children of any racial or ethnic background.”
The ACLU’s complaint quotes district planning documents explaining that the single-sex schools would be tailored to address “gender-specific needs” and “incorporate differences in male/female brain development.” The complaint further cites documents from district trainings that instruct teachers to adjust their expectations for African American boys, in particular, because they have a propensity to be “more aggressive” and “not as neat.”
“The school district adopted this single-sex program in one of Austin’s poorest districts even though its justification—that boys’ and girls’ brains are so different that they need to be taught differently—has been widely debunked by scientists,” said Adriana Piñon, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Texas. “Teaching students based on these sex stereotypes has never been proven to improve educational outcomes.”
“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.”