PARKERSBURG - Van Devender Middle School will next week return to co-educational classes.
Chief Judge Joseph Goodwin of the United States District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia in Charleston ruled in favor Wednesday of a preliminary injunction against single-sex classes at the school.
The American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia asked for single-gender classes at Vandy to be stopped immediately while the validity of the classes is discussed in court.
Van Devender Middle School will next week return to co-educational classes. Chief Judge Joseph Goodwin of the United States District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia in Charleston ruled in favor Wednesday of a preliminary injunction against single-sex classes at the school. (File Photo)
Earlier this month, the ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of parent "Jane Doe" whose three daughters are students at the school and claim to have suffered emotional and physical distress as a result of the program. The ACLU asserts the classes are a violation of federal Title IX regulations, which prohibit discrimination based on sex.
"Obviously we are pleased the injunction was granted," said Brenda Green, executive director of the ACLU of West Virginia. "Though the judge did not comment on the merits of our case, he did talk about the questionable science behind the single-sex classes."
"I want to thank the judge for his careful and thoughtful examination of all the evidence presented," said Wood County Schools Superintendent Pat Law. "While we would have liked to have won on all counts, that didn't happen."
In an opinion published Wednesday, Goodwin said he was both granting the preliminary injunction and limiting its scope. The original request had been to permanently end all gender-specific classes at the school, but Goodwin said if the program were to follow federal guidelines and not violate federal law, there would be no reason to prohibit the classes.
However, the injunction prohibits the school from offering the single-gender classes for the remainder of the 2012-13 school year and "unless and until any single-sex program offered meets the requirements of the Constitution and Title IX."
Law said he saw that part of the opinion as a positive.
"What we do see here is an opportunity for us to make those corrections and to possibly revisit the program in the future," he said.
The crux of the decision lay on whether the school offered the single-gender classes as a "completely voluntary" program. Goodwin said simply allowing parents to opt out of the program did not meet that federal requirement.
"The definition of the word 'voluntary' suggests that one cannot be said to have agreed to something voluntarily if they have not taken an affirmative act to agree to it," Goodwin wrote.
For the program to be voluntary, parents should have been asked to opt-in to the classes, he wrote. Goodwin also called into question the timing of when opt-out materials were sent to parents.
"The close proximity of the notices to the beginning of the school year, after students have already enrolled, suggests that their choice was not fully voluntary," he wrote. "The defendants have not met their burden to ensure that single-sex classes at (Vandy) are 'completely voluntary' under the Department of Education regulations. Thus, the court finds that the plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of their Title IX claim."
Goodwin wrote for the plaintiffs "continued participation in single-sex classes without having completely voluntarily chose that option constitutes irreparable harm." He also wrote the preliminary injunction "would be in the public interest" because the program might not be in compliance with federal Title IX law as asserted by the plaintiff.
The judge ordered the school to return to a co-educational schedule beginning Monday. Schools are closed Monday due to the Labor Day holiday.
Vandy Principal Steve Taylor did not return calls seeking comment Wednesday, but had previously said he and staff members were preparing a coed schedule to be implemented if the court found in favor of the injunction.