Posted: Oct 5, 2010 3:15 PM
NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Attorneys for the American Civil Liberties
Union went before a federal appeals court Tuesday in hopes of
stopping what they say is an unconstitutional system of
sex-segregated classes at a southern Louisiana school.
The ACLU filed a federal suit in 2009 against the Vermilion
Parish School District on behalf of an unnamed parent whose two
daughters were placed in single-sex classes at Rene A. Rost Middle
School. But the ACLU lost a round in April when a federal district
court refused to grant a preliminary order blocking the practice,
pending a full trial.
Attorneys for the school system told a three-judge 5th U.S.
Circuit Court of Appeals panel the appeal should be dismissed,
noting that one of the girls is no longer at the school, that the
other is not in a single sex class, and that the system of classes
has been changed to accommodate those who prefer coeducational
Mark Friedman, a lawyer working with the ACLU, argued that the
school system still has offered no adequate justification for the
program and that those who choose not to take part in the single
sex classes aren't assured of equal educational opportunities.
"It's the same program," Friedman said of the current system
at Rost. "Just with some tweaks from last year."
In briefs, school officials said the sex-segregated classes at
issue last year were voluntary. The ACLU disagreed, saying the
co-educational classes were special-needs classes and mostly male.
The ACLU argues that the gender-segregated classes at Rost
violated federal law known as Title IX that prohibits
discrimination based on sex, as well as the Equal Protection Clause
of the U.S. Constitution.
The ACLU said that the district court ignored the Title IX
claims and mistakenly ruled that the Equal Protection argument
didn't apply because the district did not mean to cause harm to the
In briefs, the ACLU argued that the school system was required
to show that it had an "important governmental interest" that was
served by offering sex-segregated classes.
School officials have argued that there is evidence that
single-sex classes can benefit students.
It was unclear when the panel of judges, Rhesa Barksdale, Carl
Stewart and Leslie Southwick, would rule. Barksdale repeatedly
suggested that the appeal seeking a preliminary injunction based on
last spring's hearing may be moot and noted that the case has yet
to come to trial on its merits.