PARKERSBURG - The American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia intends to take Wood County Schools to court over single-gender classes at Van Devender Middle School.
Earlier this month the school system told the ACLU it would not end single-sex classes at the middle school despite demands it end the program immediately. A letter was sent July 18 by Dean Furner, attorney for the Wood County Board of Education, to Sarah Rogers, staff attorney for the ACLU, stating officials would not sign a release and settlement agreement concerning the single-gender classes.
"However, after much study and debate amongst administration, myself and the board, the board voted to not sign this agreement," Furner said in the letter. "We are in no way trying to be illegally discriminate or trying to undermine the goals and activities of the ACLU. Nevertheless, we believe that our program is in compliance with the law and that we are conducting ourselves in a legally proper fashion by continuing with our single-sex program now in operation at Van Devender Middle School."
Rogers did not return a call Monday seeking comment.
Wood County Schools Superintendent Pat Law said officials received a faxed response from the ACLU stating the group intends to take the district to court to end the classes. Officials said nothing has yet been filed in court.
The ACLU letter is dated July 17, but Wood County Schools' internal faxes of the letter were dated July 20, two days after the school system sent its response to the ACLU. The two-page letter from the ACLU warns officials to not destroy any electronic or physical documents pertaining to single-gender classes.
"We will view an subsequent unavailability of any of these materials as the deliberate spoliation of evidence material to a federal civil rights lawsuit against Wood County Schools and certain of its personnel," Rogers says in the letter.
The letter states the lawsuit will be filed on behalf of client "Jane Doe," with a note stating the pseudonym was being used "to protect the confidentiality and safety of herself and her children." It also states below Rogers' signature Rogers is not yet licensed in West Virginia but is licensed in Pennsylvania.
In the letter, Rogers asks for a copy of the letter to be given to Principal Jerry Lake. Lake is principal of Barboursville Middle School in Cabell County, while Steve Taylor is principal at Vandy.
"We think this was a form letter they were sending out," Law said Monday.
In May, the ACLU sent letters to school officials in Kanawha, Cabell and Wood counties, saying single-gender classes violated numerous provisions of federal law. Nationally letters were sent to school systems in six states demanding an immediate end to gender-specific classes.
Programs in Cabell and Kanawha counties were ended this summer, though both school systems said the decisions were due to logistical and administrative issues and not the ACLU's demands.
Wood County Schools was asked to respond by July 6 to the ACLU's demand of immediately ending the program at Vandy. On July 2, the Wood County Board of Education voted 4-1 to continue offering separate boys and girls classes in core subject areas at the middle school. Board member Tad Wilson was the lone "no" vote.
"Part of the board's decision was to make sure where (the ACLU) was indicating we were violating the law that we were within the law, which we think we are," Wood County Schools Superintendent Pat Law said Monday.
Law said he believes the Vandy program needs at least one more year of data for officials to begin measuring its effectiveness.
"I think five years is the recommended number," to judge a program's effectiveness, he said. "I think at a minimum we would need three years, and we would have that perhaps this school year."
Spring 2013 would mark three years of the program, with students having participated in gender-specific core classes in sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grades.
Vandy's gender-based program began in 2010, offering separate girls' and boys' classes in sixth-grade math, English, science and social studies. The program was expanded to include seventh grade during the 2011-12 school year, and this fall will expand again to include eighth-grade students.