Middleton drops single-sex classes that feds say violated the law

The Middleton School District’s nine-year program of separating students by sex at Middleton Heights Elementary School violated federal law, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

In a Nov. 14 letter to the American Civil Liberties Union, the department said its Office of Civil Rights found that dividing boys and girls “failed to comply” with the requirements of Title IX, which does not allow gender discrimination in education.

The Middleton district notified the Department of Education last May that it would end the practice beginning with the start of school in the fall.

“The Middleton School District recently reached a resolution agreement with the Office of Civil Rights regarding instruction in single-gender classrooms,” said Josh Middleton, district superintendent, in a statement Wednesday. “There are currently no single-gender classrooms nor is there any intention of having single-gender classes in the immediate future.”

Middleton must also demonstrate to the Department of Education that the single-sex classes are ended, provide notice on the district website that the program is eliminated and notify the department annually through 2020 whether it intends to start another single-sex program.

Middleton started the classes initially to improve reading scores among boys in second through fourth grades, according to the letter to the ACLU. “The district selected the single-sex education based on a determination that the best means for eliminating the achievement gap was to focus on boys in a classroom setting that allowed the teaching of reading to be tailored to boys,” the department wrote.

The district did not have a justification for single-sex classes in other subjects.

Single-sex classes for girls were intended to “improve math and science interest and proficiency among girls,” the district said. But that justification wasn’t determined until after the program began, the department said.

“The district provided no data showing that girls attending (Middleton Heights Elementary School) were underachieving in math or science or that girls’ interest in sciences and math ... was lower than expectations,” the department wrote.

The ACLU, which filed a complaint against the district in December 2012, said segregation was based on “debunked” theories about girls’ and boys’ brains.

“It took the Department of Education several years to conclude its investigation, but we are glad to see that it has been resolved to the benefit of students,” said Leo Morales, ACLU of Idaho executive director. “Moving forward, we hope the school will honor the unique learning styles of each individual student, as opposed to letting gender stereotypes dictate teaching methods.”