ABBEVILLE — The Vermilion Parish School Board voted unanimously Thursday to suspend single-sex classes at Rene Rost Middle School next year.
Too few parents elected to place their students in the single-sex classes in some grade levels to ensure balanced class sizes in co-educational classes, David Dupuis, the school’s principal told the board upon recommending the move.
“I do not feel that the best interests of the Rene Rost community will be served by offering optional single-gender core classes at only one or two grade levels,” Dupuis said.
The board’s decision should make moot an ACLU of Louisiana lawsuit filed in 2009 by a Rost parent and her two daughters, said the board’s attorney, Calvin “Woody” Woodruff.
The suit claimed the classes are discriminatory and violated students’ rights to an equal education and other federal regulations. In April 2010, a federal district judge acknowledged the flaws but allowed the classes to continue under court supervision.
Board member Anthony Fontana pushed to maintain the program after Dupuis shared data that showed student performance improved — in both single-sex and co-educational classes — and discipline deferrals decreased over the two-year period that the single-sex option was offered.
The data shows consistency among teachers who taught both co-ed and single gender students, Dupuis said.
“They taught the curriculum effectively. It does not show that … as was said to us … that students were taught differently,” said Dupuis alluding to claims in the suit.
There was less interest in single-sex classes among parents of fifth- and eighth-grade students.
In the fifth grade, 15 boys and 20 girls elected single-sex classes, which meant the remaining two co-ed classes would have 27 students.
In the eighth grade, only nine boys and 18 girls elected for single sex, which left 29 students in each of the remaining co-ed classes.
“I can tell you those numbers, especially the eighth grade, fifth grade too, they’re not going to wash with the court,” Woodruff said.
Fontana said, “I’m not willing to abandon the program … I want the court to know we’re not abandoning this.”
Woodruff encouraged the board to consider Dupuis’ recommendation based on court mandates placed on the program last year relating to equal class sizes.
Last year, a federal judge denied the ACLU’s request for a preliminary injunction to stop the classes. The ACLU appealed the decision. In April, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeal upheld the denial, but remanded claims made by the ACLU in the suit back to the district court.
Woodruff said he’ll report the board’s decision to the federal district Friday. A court order required that the board’s decision be reported within 24 hours of a vote on the issue or by June 20.
A preliminary injunction hearing is set for June 22. Woodruff said he was unsure if it would proceed given the classes would not continue net year. He added that both student-plaintiffs no longer attend the school.
The board first approved the single gender classes in summer 2009. In 2009-10, 92 students were in co-ed classes while 329 were in single gender classes. In 2010-11, 250 students were in co-ed classes and 172 were in single sex.
Testimony in a February 2010 preliminary injunction hearing revealed Dupuis presented the board flawed data in summer 2009 and that a disproportionate number of students with special educational needs were placed in co-ed classes.
At Thursday’s meeting, Fontana praised Dupuis for his commitment to the program and acknowledged his initial doubts about the program. He said he and Dupuis often “bumped heads.”
“I even voted to fire you one night,” Fontana said. “But I really believe that you hit on something. I think it’s there.”