Last of a three-part series.

The ACLU is analyzing hundreds of pages of data it has obtained from JCPS in a public records request related to the soon-to-be-launched males of color academy to assess next steps, which could include a legal challenge based on gender discrimination.

Galen Sherwin

“We do have continued concerns based on a preliminary review,” Galen Sherwin, senior staff attorney for the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, told Insider.

The W.E.B. DuBois Academy will welcome its first 156 students — all boys — in the coming school year. Leaders of Jefferson County Public Schools and the community at large hope the academy will help close an academic achievement gap that has plagued especially the local African-American community with a stubborn and frustrating persistence.

School officials have said that based on testing performance and other measures, “males of color are not reaching their full potential.” The district has said that the share of African-American boys in fifth and sixth grade who receive a proficient or distinguished rating in reading and math is about half that of their white peers.

However, the American Civil Liberties Union is analyzing data to determine whether the academy may be violating federal gender discrimination laws because the school provides help for boys — but not girls, who, in general, do not appear to be struggling any less.

The district told Insider that it won’t speculate about possible legal action but that programs like the DuBois Academy operate successfully in other parts of the country. However, at least two school board members have expressed concerns about the academy possibly violating gender discrimination laws.

When the Jefferson County Board of Education took up the issue last summer, the ACLU had sent a letter to urge board members to reconsider their approach.

The beginning of the ACLU’s letter to JCPS.

“We fully support efforts to eliminate educational disparities, to provide new educational opportunities, and to improve life outcomes for children of color in Louisville,” the organization wrote. “However, providing such a new opportunity in the contest of a school open to boys only is not the right solution and raises significant legal and policy concerns.”

Courtesy of Pixabay

Title IX, a federal civil rights law, requires educational programs that receive federal funding to operate in a nondiscriminatory manner.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights says that key issues in which recipients have Title IX obligations include financial assistance, discipline and single-sex education.

In its letter to the board, the ACLU said: “Black and Latina girls live in the same neighborhoods, attend the same schools and share many of the same struggles as their male counterparts, while also facing unique circumstances and obstacles to academic success. Girls as well as boys of color in Louisville are in need of improved educational options.”

“There is no justification for making this new opportunity available only to their brothers, on the basis of their sex, rather than based on young people’s actual need,” the organization wrote.

Emma Roth

Emma Roth, a legal fellow with the ACLU, told Insider via email that the organization requested information from JCPS in July and has received in the last few months, including as recently as February, a total of more than 200 pages of documents.

Sherwin said the ACLU is examining the documents to determine whether male JCPS students are performing more poorly than girls.

Based on a preliminary review, Sherwin said that the data the district has provided do not support the notion that boys of color need a particular academic intervention more than girls of color.

“Girls of color are just as deserving of those additional resources,” she said.

While girls perform better than boys in some assessment categories, they perform worse in others, Sherwin said. Overall, the achievement gaps are about equivalent.

While she said that the ACLU is still “assessing next steps,” she pointed out that the organization has intervened in courts and with the U.S. Department of Education in gender discrimination cases, including in Washington, D.C. and Austin, Texas.

JCBE member Benjamin Gies, the sole member to vote against the creation of the academy, said last June that he worried about potential legal entanglements related Title IX.

Chris Brady

Gies could not be reached this week, but his board colleague Chris Brady told Insider that he, too, raised gender discrimination concerns as the board discussed the academy’s creation.

Courts could force the board to open a girls-only school to comply with Title IX, Brady said this week, though he emphasized that he wouldn’t necessarily be opposed to that remedy.

Sherwin said that even offering a separate females of color academy may not be enough to comply with the law.

The district has to have a persuasive justification for separating the sexes in the first place, she said. At this point, the best available evidence indicates that separating male and female students has no impact on their academic performance. While boys-only academies in some cases may report better academic performance, analyses show that the improvements are unrelated to the schools’ gender discrimination, she said.

JCPS spokeswoman Allison Martin told Insider via email that the district “has provided the ACLU with all documents and information it has requested.”

She said the district won’t speculate on possible legal actions, but she emphasized that males of color academies operate successfully in other parts of the country.

Sherwin told Insider that she expects the organization to make a decision on its next steps in the “next couple of months.”

Part 1 of the series explored how the academy is providing hope in an academic crisis.

Part 2 discussed cherry-picking and anti-diversity criticisms. 

[dc_ad size="9"] [dc_ad size="10"]
Boris Ladwig
Boris Ladwig is a reporter with more than 20 years of experience and has won awards from multiple journalism organizations in Indiana and Kentucky for feature series, news, First Amendment/community affairs, nondeadline news, criminal justice, business and investigative reporting. As part of The (Columbus, Indiana) Republic’s staff, he also won the Kent Cooper award, the top honor given by the Associated Press Managing Editors for the best overall news writing in the state. A graduate of Indiana State University, he is a soccer aficionado (Borussia Dortmund and 1. FC Köln), singer and travel enthusiast who has visited countries on five continents. He speaks fluent German, rudimentary French and bits of Spanish, Italian, Khmer and Mandarin.