The Education Dept. releases new guidance that offers insights into how K-12 public schools can offer a full range of single-sex classes outside the ones they normally provide for physical education and sex ed.
The new regulations, actually a makeover of a 2006 guidance that generally expanded single-sex classes, look to reverse that trend. Under the new regulations, schools that want to offer single-sex classes need to have a good, educational reason for doing so. They must also get a parental opt-in for the single-sex model and offer a similar co-ed option on the same subject, according to guidance released by the ED Office for Civil Rights.
OCR says it responded to numerous inquiries about the legality of single-sex classes. It addresses concerns raised by the American Civil Liberties Union, which has questioned the reasoning behind single-sex classes in states including Alabama, Maine, Mississippi, Virginia, and West Virginia. The guidance charts a path for schools on how they can provide boys-only or girls-only instruction while remaining in compliance with civil rights laws.
One new tough aspect is that schools offering single-sex classes must also have a sustainable, separate, co-educational version of the class. That could make it especially tough for some rural schools with relatively small student populations or lean budgets to offer single-sex classes.
To offer single-sex classes or extracurricular activities, schools must:
- Identify an important educational objective that they seek to achieve by offering a single-sex class (such as improving academic achievement);
- Demonstrate that the single-sex nature of the class is substantially related to achieving that objective;
- Ensure that enrollment in the single-sex class is completely voluntary (through an opt-in, rather than an opt-out, process);
- Offer a substantially equal coed class in the same subject;
- Offer single-sex classes evenhandedly to male and female students;
- Conduct periodic evaluations at least every two years to ensure that the classes continue to comply with Title IX;
- Avoid relying on gender stereotypes;
- Provide equitable access to single-sex classes to students with disabilities and English language learners;
- Avoid discriminating against faculty members based on gender when assigning educators to single-sex classrooms.
Title IX was enacted in 1972 to prohibit sex discrimination in education programs or activities receiving federal funds. The original Title IX regulations issued in 1975 allowed single-sex classes in a few limited circumstances, such as classes that dealt primarily with human sexuality and contact sports in physical education classes. When Congress passed the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, it required the department to issue guidelines explaining how school districts could offer single-sex classes. ED issued the first guidance in 2006, under the Bush administration, and this guidance is the first time it has been addressed by the Obama ED.
“It is our hope that this guidance will give schools, students and parents the tools they need to ensure compliance with the Title IX regulations on single-sex classes,” says Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant ED secretary for civil rights.