Sanford middle school students will no longer have the option of attending single-gender classes.

The Sanford School Committee decided Monday night to end a program that allowed fifth- and sixth-graders at Willard School to spend a year in an all-girl or all-boy class, instead of one of four co-educational classes per grade.

The program began three years ago with sixth grade and expanded this school year to the fifth grade.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine sent a letter to the school district last month, demanding that the school stop offering single-gender classes and saying that the program was based on gender stereotypes and violated federal law.

As examples of perpetuating “improper” stereotypes, the ACLU cited the all-girl class discussing current events over cocoa and the boys’ class earning points toward prizes from the National Football League by getting more exercise.

Superintendent David Theoharides said in a news release Monday that the district decided to suspend the program indefinitely because it did not want to engage in litigation threatened by the ACLU.

He said the district does not believe the program violated the law and believes it was beneficial for many students.

Attached to the news release was a letter written by Madison MacFarland, an eighth-grader at Sanford Junior High School who was in the first all-girl class at Willard School.

She said she had a “very positive experience” in the single-gender class and believes it helped her build confidence and long-lasting friendships.

“When it was just us girls, we could be ourselves without worrying about what the boys thought,” she wrote.

Shenna Bellows, executive director of the ACLU, said Tuesday that “regardless of the intention” of the single-gender classes, the district was giving a different education to boys and girls, which violates the Constitution.

She said the ACLU wanted to let the district know about its concerns “rather than going straight to court,” and was pleased with the School Committee’s decision.

“It will have a positive impact on Sanford students,” she said.

 

Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at: [email protected]