Education
6:52 pm
Fri March 29, 2013

ACLU Inquiring into AISD Plans for Single-Sex Middle Schools

The American Civil Liberties Union wants information from the Austin school district about its plans to convert Pearce and Garcia middle schools into single-sex campuses.

The school board approved the controversial plan in January as part of its effort to improve educational outcomes at the two struggling campuses in northeast Austin. The plan takes effect in the 2014-2015 school year.

ACLU of Texas executive director Terri Burke says the the organization has filed a series of public information requests to find out more about the Austin Independent School District’s decision-making process.

“Well, I mean, if something else was driving it, we’ll have to see what that was," Burke said. "But it’s a pretty radical step to take public schools and turn them into single-gender schools, particularly schools that are neighborhood schools.” 

Burke says the ACLU chapter decided to get involved after receiving complaints from parents who live in the attendance zone of the middle schools. A telephone survey of Pearce and Garcia families conducted by AISD found 51 percent favored a "traditional co‐educational middle school." 

The Austin school district did not respond to our requests for comment. The district was closed Friday for a student and staff holiday. The move to single-sex middle schools was controversial -- it was approved with a split board vote of 5-3. But it was not without a vigorous public debate and the support of the school board member whose district includes Pearce and Garcia, District 1 Trustee Cheryl Bradley.

Nevertheless, a debate has been raging in the scientific community over whether single-gender schools are as effective as its proponents claim. The journal Science published a study by University of Texas researchers who argued that “sex-segregated education—is deeply misguided, and often justified by weak, cherry-picked, or misconstrued scientific claims rather than by valid scientific evidence.” Two of the authors also wrote against single-sex schools on Slate.com.