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Deal bars single-sex classrooms in Wood County for two years

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- There won't be single-sex classrooms in Wood County for at least two years, according to a settlement approved in U.S. District Court on Monday.

A mother teamed up with the American Civil Liberties Union and filed a lawsuit against the Wood County Board of Education in August 2012. The suit argued that separating students by gender at Van Devender Middle School in Parkersburg is unconstitutional and violates federal gender equality laws.

The county school system agreed not to implement any single-sex programs until after the 2014-15 school year. Also, through the 2018-19 school year, notice must be given before any gender-based programs are initiated so potential plaintiffs have time to object.

"Wood County has expressed interest in restoring its single-sex education program," Marissa Harrison, an attorney representing the mother, told U.S. District Judge Joseph Goodwin.

During the 2010-11 school year, after receiving a private grant for "Student Educational and Economic Development Success," Van Devender began separating students by sex in reading, math, social studies and science classes, according to court documents.

Goodwin blocked the school system from separating students by sex during the 2012 school year, shortly after the plaintiffs filed the lawsuit, as the litigation was pending.

The mother who sued the school board has three children who attend the school. None are identified in court filings.

Goodwin, though hesitant to do so, sealed the amount of money the school system agreed to pay the mother, separate from $65,000 they will pay in attorneys' fees.

"When a public body pays out money and attorneys' fees, I'm not going to seal that," said Goodwin, who later changed his mind about disclosing the amount of money the woman will receive in addition to the attorneys' fees.

"The matter has created considerable public controversy and there has been some adverse attention directed toward the [juveniles and their mother] as a result," he said.

In November, the West Virginia Board of Education expressed its support of single-sex classrooms, despite criticism from the ACLU.

The ACLU believes separated classrooms perpetuate outdated gender stereotypes and discredits research claiming that boys and girls learn in drastically different ways.

At a state Board of Education meeting in November, board President Wade Linger said it's important to allow county school boards to choose whether the method would benefit their schools.

"The Board of Education supports school systems' effort to improve student achievement through innovative ways based on research and sound educational practice. To this end, the board supports counties which choose to implement single-sex classrooms if the aforementioned is in alignment with guidance provided by the U.S. Department of Education and embedded in federal regulations," Linger said in the statement prepared along with the board at the meeting.

Around the time the lawsuit was filed, Kanawha County Schools discontinued plans for single-sex classes after receiving letters of concern from the ACLU.

Reach Kate White at kate.white@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.


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