LAFAYETTE — The Vermilion Parish School Board has agreed to extend its suspension of single-gender classes through the 2016-17 school year as part of a settlement agreement with the ACLU.

The ACLU issued a news release about the agreement Thursday in its 2009 lawsuit filed on behalf of a Rene Rost Middle School parent and her two daughters, identified as Jane, Joan and Jill Doe. The lawsuit claims the segregation of students by gender at Rene Rost Middle School violated students’ rights to an equal education and other federal laws.

The settlement agreement applies to all schools in the district and requires the School Board to notify the ACLU if it plans to reinstitute the single-gender classes during the 2017-18 or 2018-19 school years.

In the 2009-10 school year, students were separated by gender for core academic classes at the Kaplan middle school. Testimony during a federal hearing last year revealed the program was based on flawed data presented by the school’s principal to the School Board. It also revealed a disproportionate number of children with special educational needs were placed in co-education classes.

Last year, U.S. District Judge Richard Haik said the program was flawed, but added he found no evidence that the principal or School Board intended to discriminate against students by implementing the program. Haik ruled the single-gender classes could continue under court supervision.

The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Haik’s ruling, but remanded the case back to the district court for consideration of claims raised in the suit.

In June, School Board members praised the program, but voted not to continue it in the current school year based on low interest among parents. Concerns over the future reinstatement of the program prompted the ACLU to pursue the litigation and amend its lawsuit to include Jane Doe’s other children who will attend Rost in the future and another mother and her children.

The program at Rost mirrors others across the country that rely on “the outdated and discredited notion that boys and girls are so different that they need to be taught differently,” stated Galen Sherwin, staff attorney for the ACLU Women’s Rights Project.

“This should send a message to the other schools that this type of experiment is not worth the risk,” Sherwin stated. “If we really want to help our kids, we should invest in policies that are known to work, like smaller classes, greater parental involvement and more attention to curriculum content. Co-education is not the problem, and sex segregation is not the solution.”

In a statement issued Thursday, Vermilion Parish School Board Superintendent Randy Schexnayder said though the program was upheld in federal district and appellate decisions, “we have mutually agreed to end any further legal disputes.”

Schexnayder said the single-gender program began after two years of research and parent approval.

“To maintain and increase the quality of our educational system, we continually look for innovative programs that have been successful in other areas of the United States; such was the case with the single-gender program,” he stated. “Some 500 public schools around the country are currently using the concept to improve academic performance and reduce behavioral problems.”

He said the district will continue its research on the program and may reinstitute it at a later date “if and when the research, parental interest and student participation justify that decision.”