The Scholar: St. Mary's Law Review on Race and Social Justice


Bill Piatt


Should the public schools be allowed to segregate girls from boys in the classroom? There is a history of single-sex education in this country, but there are concerns about single gender classrooms. In recent decades, researchers have begun to assert that requiring boys and girls to be taught together has a negative impact on the educational progress because of inherent differences in boy/girl learning behavior, or even in the development of their brains. Proponents of gender exclusive classrooms point out the voluntary nature of the programs, and the explicit findings of the Department of Education justifying such programs. Opponents argue that the "separate but equal" analogy applies and there is inadequate scientific justification of these programs. Under the United States v. Virginia analysis, the policy permitting same gender classrooms would need to be supported by genuine educational justifications to survive a constitutional challenge. These programs raise obvious issues as to whether they are indeed "voluntary." After decades of struggle to eliminate gender stereotypes and barriers, we should be very cautious about re-imposing them in the form of segregated classrooms. In the absence of "exceedingly persuasive" empirical justification, and unless it can be shown that continuing the programs will do no harm, it might now be time to curtail the experiment.

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St. Mary's University School of Law



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