PARKERSBURG, W.Va. (CN) – A West Virginia public school system segregates boys and girls into different classes, tailoring lessons to stereotypical gender differences, a mother claims in Federal Court.
Jane Doe says her three daughters are starting seventh grade at Van Devender Middle School in Parkersburg. W.Va, but will not get to learn math, science and other classes with boys in the same school. Single-sex classes at Van Devender began in fall 2010, Doe says.
“Defendants implemented the sex separation program at Van Devender based on impermissible and inaccurate stereotypes about purportedly different learning capacities and preferences of girls and boys, and, specifically, the theory that boys’ and girls’ brains develop so differently that they are best taught separately, using teaching methods that are tailored to those presumed difference,” according to the complaint in the Southern District of West Virginia.
In adopting this system, the Wood County Board of Education allegedly relied on the work of Leonard Sax, the founder of the National Association for Single-Sex Public Education. Sax even trained the teachers before the program began in 2010, according to the complaint.
The website for Sax’s organization says boys need their teachers to “giv[e] them a reality check” and “mak[e] them realize they’re not as brilliant as they think they are and challenge them to do better,” the complaint states. Girls, on the other hand, allegedly need encouragement while taking classes in “a safe, comfortable welcoming place” with sofas instead of hard chairs.
Does says the program also urges teachers to “consider role-playing for girls (e.g. acting out ‘Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret’) and objective and fact-oriented assignments for boys.”
Van Devender staff have been trained that boys’ classrooms should be kept at a brisk 69 degrees and full of cool colors, while girls’ classrooms have a warmer temperature and color palate, according to the complaint. The teachers are allegedly trained to keep boys’ attention with movement and direct talk. Girls supposedly need greater activity time and face-to-face communication that will encourage bonding, the complaint states.
Doe says her daughters have already been irreparably harmed from their sixth-grade studies.
Beth Doe, who has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, often gets in trouble because girls’ classrooms do not encourage the free movement, unlike in boys’ classrooms, her mother says. Meanwhile the dim lighting in girls’ classrooms allegedly exacerbates the vision problems of her sisters. Anne Doe is legally blind and Carol Doe also has poor eyesight.
“Not all girls are alike,” the complaint states. “Research demonstrates that the psychological and learning differences between individual girls are far larger than the average psychological or learning differences between girls and boys.”
The same goes for boys, Doe says.
“Sex is an imprecise proxy for psychological, learning, emotional and developmental differences in adolescents,” the complaint states. “Psychological research demonstrates that, on average, boys and girls are psychologically more alike than different.”
Girls and boys who do not thrive in classrooms stereotyped to their genders ultimately learn that “they are not ‘normal.'”
She wants the school to desegregate classes by gender in the upcoming school year, which begins Aug. 29, as well as monetary damages. The complaint alleges violations of the equal-protection rights under the 14th Amendment and Title IX, which prohibits gender-based discrimination by federally funded educational institutions.
Doe sued the Wood County Board of Education, Superintendent J. Patrick Law, Van Devender Middle School Principal Stephen Taylor and former assistant principal Penny Tonelli Coleman.
She is represented by Roger Forman in Charleston, Sarah Rogers with the American Civil Liberties Union, and several others with Morrison & Foerster in Washington, D.C.

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