PARKERSBURG - Defending VanDevender Middle School's gender-based programs could cost Wood County Schools thousands of dollars, and officials said Tuesday they cannot prove the program's effectiveness with available data.
Officials with Vandy and Wood County Schools spoke Tuesday to the Wood County Board of Education about the middle school's gender-based programs. Vandy is the only public school in West Virginia to offer separate boys and girls classes in core subject areas. Kanawha and Cabell counties announced in the last two months they would end single-gender classes at schools in their districts.
The American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia had sent letters to all three school systems demanding an end to the single-gender classes, saying they were based on faulty science and violated federal laws.
Photo by Jeff Baughan
VanDevender Middle School Principal Steve Taylor speaks to Wood County Board of Education members concerning gender-specific classes.
Kanawha and Cabell counties said they believed their programs were within federal guidelines, but were ending them for logistical and administrative reasons.
Wood County Schools is scheduled to respond to the ACLU's letter by July 6.
Wood County Schools Superintendent Pat Law said Tuesday while officials feel the program has not violated any federal laws, legal counsel has estimated it would cost at least $10,000 to defend the program in court.
At A Glance - The Battle At VanDevender
Wood County Schools officials say defending VanDevender Middle School's single-gender classes in court could cost the school system thousands of dollars.
School and district officials say too little data exists to prove the classes are having a positive impact on student achievement and discipline.
The school system must respond by July 6 to a letter from the ACLU of West Virginia demanding an end to single-gender classes at the middle school.
Board attorney Dean Furner "expressed caution that this could be a lengthy and costly undertaking," Law said. "This could be expensive for the county moving forward."
Vandy Principal Steve Taylor presented numbers on student achievement and in- and out-of-school suspensions for the school's sixth and seventh grades Tuesday, but both Taylor and Law said they did not have enough data to definitively show the program was having a positive impact on student performance and discipline.
Taylor said such a program needs about five years worth of data to show any kinds of statistical trends, but said the program, which was approved by the school board in 2010, has only one solid year of data.
Even so, he believes the school is on the right track with single-sex classes.
"I believe it's a good situation," he said. "I believe that what we are doing is best for kids."
Taylor said Tuesday he had not yet read the letter from ACLU of West Virginia which outlined the group's issues with Vandy's program. Board members asked Taylor to come to the next meeting to address point by point the concerns expressed in the letter.
"I think you need to read this," said board member Jim Fox, who handed a copy of the letter to Taylor following his presentation. "If we are going to look at this, I think we need to take this very seriously."
During the public comment portion of Tuesday's meeting, parent Mary Cross spoke out against the program. Her three daughters participated in the sixth-grade program this past school year at Vandy. Cross said one of her daughters is failing in part because of the gender-based program.
"My three girls absolutely hate it," Cross said. "I'm totally against it. I just disagree with all girls learn this way and all boys learn this way, because it's not true.
"Even the Army isn't gender-based anymore."
Parent William George said he felt the school failed to inform parents of the program and instead forced students into the single-sex classes.
"I have never received anything on the gender-based," program, he said. "It was 'boom,' they dropped it on the kids."
No vote on the program was taken at Tuesday's meeting.
In other business, the school board approved the purchase of a property adjacent to Emerson Elementary School, but with a condition.
The vote followed a closed-door session where board members reviewed options for purchasing the less-than half-acre parcel of commercial property which sits behind the school. The property has one house and a small chain link fence marks the property line between the parcel and Emerson Elementary.
Officials want to use the property to expand parking for the school and possibly reroute some school-related traffic off of 36th Street.
Prior to the vote, the motion was amended to make the purchase pending a review of the appraised value of the property.
No dollar amount was attached to Tuesday's motion. Sue Woodward, assistant superintendent of school services, said the district's offer will depend on the result of the appraisal.