Single Sex Education in K-12

 I’ve conducted a little informal research, surveying the four people I know who are closest to this issue:  my three boys and my nephew.  They range in age from 4-11 and the verdict is in:  school without girls would be awesome!  Whereas I think it would be a huge detriment to their development to be educated in a single-sex environment at this point in their young lives, I suspect in a few more years, the boys and I may reverse positions on this issue.

Putting aside the perspective of the little Lords of the Flies in my life, is single sex education even legal?  Some of you are already doing it, so it must be.  Right?  Wrong.  All of you are doing it.  And it is legal, but only under limited exceptions to the general standard set forth in Title IX regulations:  “[e]xcept as provided for in this section or otherwise in this part, a recipient shall not provide or otherwise carry out any of its education programs or activities separately on the basis of sex, or require or refuse participation therein by any of its students on the basis of sex.”

This is pretty sweeping language, so when you think about the physical education programs, vocal programs, and sex education programs you are already running, keep in mind the authority for this is an exception to the general rule. 34 C.F.R. Section 106.34 lists the following exceptions:

  • contact sports in P.E. or extracurricular activities (the examples given are wrestling, boxing, rugby, ice hockey, football, basketball, and “other sports the purpose or major activity of which involves bodily contact”)
  • ability grouping in P.E. classes assessed according to objective criteria and individual performance without regard to sex
  • human sexuality classes
  • choruses (choir in Texas) may be organized according to vocal range or quality and the result may be a chorus of predominantly one sex or the other

Whole (nonvocational) classes and extracurricular activities may also be divided by sex but those offerings must be completely voluntary; must be implemented in an even-handed manner; must be offered along with a substantially equal coed class or activity; and must ultimately be based on the school’s “important objective” – to meet particular, identified educational needs of students and to further their academic achievement through diverse educational offerings (this should sound familiar if you read yesterday’s Blawg), provided that the single-sex nature of the course or activity is “substantially related” to achieving this important objective.  These requirements for single-sex extracurriculars apply to nonathletic activities only.  There are separate rules that apply specifically to interscholastic, club, and intramural athletics.

In addition, a district that offers a single-sex course or activity according to the standards described above “may” be required to offer a substantially equal single-sex offering to both sexes.  If you’ve got (or want to develop) an entire single-sex campus, you must provide a substantially equal single-sex or coed school for the opposite sex.

What constitutes substantial equality for purposes of evaluating curricular, extracurricular, or campus selection options?  The Department of Education considers the following factors: policies and criteria for admission;  quality, range, and content of curriculum and other services; the quality and availability of books, instructional materials, and technology; the quality and range of extracurricular offerings (for single-sex campus comparators); the qualifications of faculty and staff; geographic accessibility; the quality, accessibility, and availability of facilities and resources; as well as intangible features, such as reputation of faculty.


 Tomorrow:  As long as we’re covering gender issues, we might as well catch up on the latest in transgender litigation.