PARKERSBURG - An official with the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia says a disagreement with Wood County Schools concerning single-gender classes might not have to end in litigation.
Brenda Green, executive director of the ACLU of West Virginia, said Tuesday a letter sent by the ACLU about a lawsuit over separate boys and girls classes at Van Devender Middle School was intended as a warning.
"We are still very much in the investigation phase at this point," said Green. "Certainly litigation is a possibility, but it isn't a certainty. There are options other than a lawsuit."
Green said to avoid a lawsuit, she believes Wood County Schools must show it is in compliance with federal guidelines concerning single-gender classrooms and make changes to assure it remains within those guidelines.
"It is not single-sex classrooms that we are opposed to, it is single-sex classrooms that are in violation of Title IX that we are opposing," she said.
The federal Title IX prohibits schools receiving federal funding from discriminating against students on the basis of sex. Green said the federal government has strict guidelines concerning any program that differentiates between boys and girls, and it is the ACLU's belief the Vandy program has violated those guidelines.
Green said parents have contacted the ACLU complaining they were not given information on the program, were not given a choice of whether their children would be enrolled in the single-gender classes, and when they complained were told they could transfer their children to another school.
"That's not a viable option," Green said.
Wood County Schools officials have said they believe the program complies with all federal standards and is not in violation of the law.
"We think we are in compliance," Wood County Schools Superintendent Pat Law said Tuesday. "We have gone through the list (of the ACLU's concerns) with the principal, and he and we feel all of those things are in place with the Vandy program."
"The key word here is 'interpretation,' " Green said. "They are interpreting it that they are in compliance. We interpret that it is not in compliance."
Law, citing potential litigation, declined to comment further on any specifics concerning the ACLU's allegations against the Vandy program.
Green said the ACLU has received and investigated numerous complaints concerning single-gender classes, not only at Vandy but at other West Virginia schools. Earlier this summer Kanawha and Cabell county schools announced they would end single-gender programs at their schools, citing scheduling and administrative issues. Vandy is the only public school in West Virginia still offering single-gender classes.
Green on Tuesday also clarified a misconception concerning the ACLU's legal representation. Correspondence from Wood County School's attorney Dean Furner was sent to Sarah Rogers, a staff attorney for the ACLU. Rogers works out of Pennsylvania and was listed as not yet being licensed in West Virginia.
Green said Rogers is not the lead attorney on the case, but helped prepare some of the legal documents used in the correspondence.
"We have several attorneys, but Roger Forman is the lead attorney," Green said. Forman is a practicing attorney in Charleston and was listed as the "local sponsoring attorney" on the ACLU's most recent letter to Wood County Schools.
Green said ACLU attorney's continue to speak with Wood County Schools' legal counsel, and officials continue to gather information on the program.
"The next step is exactly what we are doing," Green said. "It is basically investigation, discussion and then deciding on where to go from there."