The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) released guidance today for K-12 schools that offer or want to offer single-sex classes.
In response to numerous inquiries about the legality of single-sex classes, OCR issued guidance that charts a path for schools on how they can provide boys-only or girls-only instruction while remaining in compliance with civil rights laws.
“As we receive increasing inquiries about single-sex offerings we want to be clear what federal law allows: Protect civil rights and promote achievement,” said Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights. “It is our hope that this guidance will give schools, students and parents the tools they need to ensure compliance with the Title IX regulations on single-sex classes.”
To offer single-sex classes or extracurricular activities, schools must:
- Identify an important objective that they seek to achieve by offering a single-sex class (such as improving academic achievement);
- Demonstrate that the single-sex nature of the class is substantially related to achieving that objective;
- Ensure that enrollment in the single-sex class is completely voluntary (through an opt-in, rather than an opt-out, process);
- Offer a substantially equal coed class in the same subject;
- Offer single-sex classes evenhandedly to male and female students;
- Conduct periodic evaluations at least every two years to ensure that the classes continue to comply with Title IX;
- Avoid relying on gender stereotypes;
- Provide equitable access to single-sex classes to students with disabilities and English language learners and,
- Avoid discriminating against faculty members based on gender when assigning educators to single-sex classrooms.
The guidance document is presented in a convenient question-and-answer format, offering common scenarios aimed at assisting schools and educators in designing single-sex programs that comply with Title IX.
Historically, Title IX was enacted in 1972 to prohibit sex discrimination in education programs or activities receiving federal funds. The original Title IX regulations issued in 1975 allowed single-sex classes in a few limited circumstances, such as classes that dealt primarily with human sexuality and contact sports in physical education classes.
When Congress passed the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, it required the Department to issue guidelines explaining how school districts could offer single-sex classes consistent with applicable law. The result was that in 2006, OCR published regulations that generally expanded the use of single-sex education.
The new guidance explains those 2006 regulations, responding to questions that have come to OCR since that time.
OCR’s mission is to ensure equal access to education and promote educational excellence throughout the nation through the vigorous enforcement of civil rights. The office is responsible for enforcing federal civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination by educational institutions on the basis of disability, race, color, national origin, sex, and age, as well as the Boy Scouts of America Equal Access Act of 2001. For more about the office, click here.