March 27, 2013

Legislative panel rejects bill to allow single-gender classrooms

From staff reports

AUGUSTA — A legislative committee rejected a bill Tuesday that would have changed state law to allow gender-segregated classrooms amid concerns that it’s unconstitutional.

The Education Committee voted down the bill, submitted by Sen. John Tuttle, D-Sanford, in a 13-1 vote. It would establish single-gender classroom as an optional pathway for schools in state education guidelines. The bill will go to the full Legislature for consideration.

In a public hearing earlier this month, Sanford students and administrators lauded their single-sex classrooms, which ran for three years until 2012 at the Willard School. Sixth-grade classes were in effect for the full three years, while the program expanded to fifth grade in the last year.

But Sanford ended those classes after the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine threatened legal action if they weren’t shut down, saying they violated the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause. 

The ACLU of Maine said that while the federal government allows certain single-gender classrooms, they’re highly regulated.

“This proposal made it seem easier than it really is for schools to offer single-sex classes,” said Rachel Healy, an ACLU of Maine spokeswoman, in a statement. “Schools that accept federal money have to follow federal regulations, and all schools have to follow the Constitution.”

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