NEW ORLEANS (CN) - A public middle school in Vermillion Parish can continue holding single-sex classes where girls and boys are taught based on their perceived interests, the 5th Circuit ruled.
While affirming a federal judge's denial of an injunction, the three-judge appellate panel kicked the case back to the Western District of Louisiana for the judge to approve that Rene Rost Middle School is meeting federal standards.
The mother of two girls attending Rene Rost filed suit anonymously through the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana in 2009, claiming that the program violated students' rights to an equal education, was discriminatory and did not follow federal regulation.
Rene Rost principal David Dupuis received permission from the Vermilion Parish School Board to conduct a small study on the benefits of single-sex education at his school in the 2008-09 academic year.
Court records show that Dupuis "fudged" the data to show that academic performance skyrocketed among the sample single-sex classes, while behavioral problems dropped dramatically. Impressed with Dupuis' purported results, the board let Dupuis institute single-sex education for the entire school in the 2009-10 school year.
An expert later testified that grading actually declined during the period of single-sex classes, and the improvement in behavior could be attributed to a state-mandated program.
Though the board describes its single-sex education program as "equal but separate," it also admits that the school tailors teaching strategies to the perceived interests of girls and boys. Boys are therefore taught with "action techniques," while girls learn "in a more quiet environment," according to court filings.
While parents were given the option of enroll their children in each grade's one coeducational class, evidence shows that Dupuis convinced 30 families who had opted for coed classes to switch to single-sex.
Rene Rost had a male-to-female ratio of 55-45 that year, but the coed classes were stacked 73-27 and had a disproportionate number of students with special needs and Individual Education Plans (IEPs), a hallmark of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
"Of the 38 IEP students with more severe impairments, 37 were placed into coed classes," the 5th Circuit ruling states. "At the same time, all of the IEP students that were 'talented and gifted' were spread throughout the single-sex classes."
Though U.S. District Judge Richard Haik in Lafayette criticized the "significant flaws" in Dupuis's data and the "extreme lack of oversight over this program," he declined to issue an injunction in April because he found the school did not intentionally discriminate.
The Vermilion superintendent testified that after reviewing a letter from the ACLU that said the single-sex program was illegal, he and the board's attorney determined that "we were exactly in violation. ... We weren't aware of the law," according to court filings.
Judge Haik also ordered Vermilion to follow a 10-step plan to continue single-sex education more effectively in the 2010-11 school year. The requirements included the addition of two coed sections in each grade and more equal student distribution. Gender-based educational strategies have continued this year, Vermilion has said.
On appeal, the ACLU renewed its request for an injunction and Vermilion asked the court to kill the suit, arguing that the nonprofit had targeted the previous year's program.
Though the three-judge panel upheld Haik's decision to deny the injunction, the panel said the board must ensure its program meets standards set by the Department of Education. Single-sex classrooms are legal only if they are voluntary, and only if they follow certain specific guidelines, according to 2006 department regulations.