Schools may split classes by gender

By Erin Lindsay

Gym will no longer be the only classroom segregated by sex in public schools across the country.

The Department of Education announced rules, which take affect on Nov. 24, that will make it easier for schools to form single-sex classrooms.

Susan Zola, principal of Jefferson Middle School, 1115 S. Crescent Dr. in Champaign, said she has not experienced a same-sex atmosphere in the classroom but thinks it has potential.

“I am open to the idea, but I don’t see our curriculum changing very soon,” she said.

Margaret Spellings, education secretary of the Department of Education, told The Associated Press that research has shown some students benefit from same-sex education and that the department’s goal is to provide options for educators, students and their parents.

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The recent rules will both update and reinforce Title IX, an anti-discrimination law among educators that banned sex discrimination in federally funded education programs in 1972. An underlying focus in the legislation aims to give discretion to each school as to when same sex education will improve a student’s achievement. Champaign Parent-Teacher Association President Brian Minsker said he is happy the decision will be left to the individual school.

“I think it’s right and appropriate to turn the decision to the school district. I don’t think research determines everything, but every kid is different and the trick is finding the right environment for maximizing learning and that may be a same sex atmosphere,” Minsker said.

Minsker said he thinks parent involvement would be essential in the decision of Champaign schools.

“It would only work if they implement this co-jointly with parents and teachers,” Minsker said. “For my kids it wouldn’t make a difference, but for others it may be a solution.”

Principal Zola said that while she has never worked in a same-sex setting, she can see how it may benefit her students.

“I can see students that are too self-conscious to share in a group setting, especially girls,” Zola said. “Peers are pretty influential.”

Underlying restrictions to the legislation will protect any student who chooses to remain in a co-ed classroom environment by mandating a “substantially equal” co-ed class in the same subject, according to a Department of Education press release. Public school districts will also have the option of creating single-sex schools, as long as a co-ed school still remains available to students in the area.

Issues of unequal rights have been recently brought up by the National Women’s Law Center when Jocelyn Samuels, vice president for Education and Employment of the group, told The Associated Press that same-sex education “is not a substitute for true equality,”

“It’s a very dangerous sign to schools, that they can relax their vigilance in ensuring equal educational opportunities,” Samuels told The Associated Press.

An example used by Samuels is a school’s current ability to allow a specialized math class in physics for boys. She questions whether the girls would be receiving the same opportunity.

Jim Bradshaw, a spokesperson from the Department of Education, said there has been an abundance of feedback since the announcement last week. The Education Department received more than 5,800 comments after proposing the legislation in 2004.

Bradshaw said that while the research is not set in stone for every student, there is now an even greater opportunity for learning in our schools.

“These regulations will make it easier for those recipients that wish to use single-sex classes to achieve the goal of improving educational outcomes,” Bradshaw said in an e-mail.