PARKERSBURG - Superintendent Pat Law says Wood County Schools has not violated any federal laws with its gender-based classes, but officials will seek legal counsel before addressing concerns voiced by the ACLU.
Law read a prepared statement at Tuesday's Wood County Board of Education meeting, addressing a recent letter sent by the American Civil Liberties Union demanding the school system shut down gender-based classes at VanDevender Middle School.
"Although education based on gender is not the norm, it is not illegal," Law said Tuesday. "The U.S. Department of Education provided guidance in 2006 specifically on conditions necessary for schools to implement this approach. I believe that VanDevender Middle School's program is in alignment with that guidance."
Photo by Michael Erb
Wood County Schools Superintendent Pat Law, left, speaks to Wood County Board of Education President Tad Wilson, right, and other members of the board Tuesday during a meeting at the district office.
Law said the school system will seek legal counsel and consult with the West Virginia Department of Education and other school systems that use gender-based education before replying to the ACLU.
Vandy began offering separate boys and girls classes in 2010 for sixth-grade students in four core subject areas - math, science, social studies and reading language arts. This school year the program expanded to include seventh grade, and this fall is expected to include sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students.
Law said initial numbers and anecdotal evidence suggest Vandy has seen improvements in test scores and attendance while seeing a reduction in disciplinary issues since beginning the gender-based classes.
In Other Vandy News
Wood County commissioners agreed to donate $1,900 to VanDevender Middle School to help purchase a five-man training sled for the school's football program.
Romel "Boo" Henderson, representing the schools' boosters, met with commissioners Monday to submit the request, noting the school's booster group had a fundraising event which raised $1,200 toward the purchase of the equipment, but another $1,900 was needed.
Henderson said the equipment was needed to better prepare the middle school students for high school football.
Law said Vandy is required by law to assess and report on its program every two years.
"They were prepared to do their reporting, but we got this letter (from the ACLU) before they'd even finished their first two years of the program," Law said. "There will be a report."
"Does the ACLU, do they understand that the curriculum that's being delivered to the females and the males, is identical?" asked board member Jim Fox.
"They have that information," Law said. "Their letter indicates, however, despite that, simply because they are in separate rooms, that we are segregating.
"We feel that the process (Vandy) put in place is beneficial to students."
The ACLU announced Monday it was sending "demand letters" to the superintendents of three West Virginia school systems - Cabell County, Kanawha County and Wood County- asking officials to end programs which separate children into boys- and girls-only classes. The release is part of a national "Teach Kids, Not Stereotypes" initiative in a half dozen states throughout the country.
Vandy is the only school in Wood County to offer the gender-specific classes. In Cabell County both Barboursville Middle School and Enslow Middle School have gender-specific classes. In Kanawha County, Stonewall Jackson Middle School and Anne Bailey Elementary School have gender-specific classes, but Kanawha is ending the classes at the elementary school this fall due to staffing issues.
The ACLU claims same-sex classes are based on faulty science and outdated stereotypes concerning boys and girls learning differently. The letters ask the superintendents to sign agreements with the ACLU to end all same-sex and gender-specific programs at the start of the next school year.
In other business, the school board unanimously approved Wood County Schools $112 million budget for the 2012-13 school year. Board members did not discuss the budget at Tuesday's meeting, but officials have said the budget closely mirrors the current school year's budget.