Wood BOE settles lawsuit

CHARLESTON – The Wood County Board of Education’s settlement with a mother and the American Civil Liberties Union regarding single-gender classrooms has been approved by a federal judge.

Monday, in Charleston, U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Goodwin approved a settlement stemming from a lawsuit filed by the ACLU over single-gender classrooms at VanDevender Middle School. Wood County Schools Superintendent Pat Law said a settlement had been in the works for a while.

“The judge was encouraging us to come to an agreement,” he said.

The school system agreed to pay $65,000 in attorney fees as well as an undisclosed sum to the mother. Goodwin sealed the amount the school system agreed to pay.

The judge cited “considerable public controversy and adverse attention directed toward the family as a result of the suit.” The family is not identified in the proceedings.

The school system agreed not to implement any single-gender programs until after the 2014-15 school year. And notice must be given before any gender-based programs are initiated so potential plaintiffs have time to object.

Law said the settlement will hold the classes for another few years.

It will allow the children to move on to the high school if we start up again, he said.

“It doesn’t sound like gender-based education is going to be in our classrooms anytime soon,” said board president Tim Yeater.

During the 2010-11 school year VanDevender began separating students by gender in reading, math, social studies and science classes. Similar programs were started in Kanawha and Cabell counties, but suspended after the ACLU sent letters to the school systems demanding the classes cease.

The ACLU challenged the program, declaring it was based on faulty science and violated federal law. It filed suit on behalf of a mother of three students who attend VanDevender.

Goodwin blocked the school system from separating students by gender during the 2012 school year, shortly after the plaintiffs filed the lawsuit, as the litigation was pending.

Yeater said, based on the decision, the judge did not rule the classes illegal.

“We just hadn’t followed the proper procedure.”

“I think kids do learn better or differently in different environments,” he added. “If that involves a gender class we should be allowed to do it.”

Law said teachers involved in the classes were happy with the results.

“They liked what they were seeing,” he said. “I would say there is a pretty good chance we will see it again.”