PARKERSBURG - The American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia has filed suit against the Wood County Board of Education over single-sex classes at Van Devender Middle School.
The ACLU announced the action Thursday on its web site, saying it had filed the suit "on behalf of a mother and her daughters." The lawsuit contends the children have been mentally and physically harmed by the program, saying one daughter is legally blind and had her eyesight further damaged by low lighting in the girls classes.
Another daughter has been frequently reprimanded for not paying attention, even though she has attention deficit disorder, and has been sent to the boys classroom as punishment, according to the ACLU.
VanDevender Middle School Principal Steve Taylor speaks to parents Thursday about conditions of the school's single-gender classrooms continuing. (Photo by Jeff Baughan)
"I haven't received anything yet, but my understanding was it was going to happen," said Wood County Schools Superintendent Pat Law. He confirmed the ACLU had notified the school system of its intent to file, but declined to comment further, citing pending litigation.
The news came even as Vandy officials gathered parents at the school Thursday evening for an information session on the single-gender programs. The classes were instituted two years ago, offering separate boys and girls classes in English, math, science and social studies. The program is expanding this fall to include all three grades at the school.
Principal Steve Taylor began the session by addressing one of the main concerns voiced by the ACLU: Parent choice.
"It is your choice whether you participate. It's always been your choice. You know what's best for your child," he said. "If you choose not to participate that is fine. You will not have to go to another school."
Taylor said the ACLU has alleged parents are only able to opt out of the program by transferring their children to another school. Taylor said Vandy has the ability to form mixed-gender classes if students opt out.
"I have never had anyone request a coed class," he said. "That is why we've never offered one."
About 30 parents and a half dozen students attended the question and answer session, which lasted less than 20 minutes.
Robert Williams, the parent of an eighth-grade girl, asked whether Taylor believed the classes were benefiting students academically.
"It's worked out great for my daughter," Williams said.
Taylor said while teachers believe it has improved discipline, attendance and achievement, the school needs at least one more year of data to show a positive impact. That data should be available at the end of this school year, he said.
Parent Art Kelly, whose daughter attends eighth grade at the school, asked what would happen if the school were forced to end the gender-based classes mid-year.
"Let's hope that doesn't happen," Taylor said, but added officials have an alternative coed schedule prepared if the program were forced to end, "so there wouldn't be any lapse of time."
Parent Gary Province attended Thursday's meeting with his 13-year-old son Tony Province.
"We came to be support," Gary Province said. "My wife and I, we are very pro-gender-classes."
Gary Province said he has seen no issues with the classes and his son, though he admits his son's opinion "is mixed, but he doesn't mind it.
"He's done very well here and I feel he has been able to focus better than he might have in a mixed-gender class," Gary Province said.
Though the majority of parents seemed to support the program, not all were satisfied with the meeting. Parent Eric George said he still opposed the single-gender classes. He has three daughters who attend the school, but declined to provide more information.
George said the information given by Taylor Thursday night was different than what parents were told when the classes began.
"In the beginning we were not given the options we are being given now," he said. "I guess it is in the hands of the board of education now. They make the decision."
Taylor asked all of the parents in attendance to fill out a form saying whether they would prefer gender-based classes, asking for the forms to be returned by the start of the school year.