Are single-sex public schools legal in the US?

Anytown High School is suffering from severe overcrowding so the Anytown Unified School District builds a second high school, but instead of sending all students on one side of town to one high school and students on the other side to a different high school AUSD decided to keep all the boys at Anytown High (now Anytown Boys’ High School) and send all the girls to the new school (or vice versa). Assume each school has the same facilities and the same programs (ie shop and home ec). Is allowed under; 1) federal law, and 2) state law (do any states allow it)?

I don’t see why not, although the devil would be in the details. You would have to make damned sure that facilities, programs, resources etc. are as close to equal as possible. There has. of course, been considerable research to suggest that, particularly in the teen years, kids learn better and have fewer distractions in single-sex schools.

I don’t know of any such public schools in Ohio, but am aware of no statutory bar to it.

Gary J. Simson, Separate But Equal and Single-Sex Schools, 90 Cornell Law Review 443 (2005):

Here is an article about Simson’s law review article, for those who don’t feel like wading through a 20-page pdf: Home | Cornell Chronicle

It depends on the state. Federal rules permit it, although with strict guidelines, and states vary. No in Michigan, yes in Illinois. As far as I know, though, it’s only been done in Charter schools, which don’t have to follow the same guidelines that “regular” public schools do, although they are still part of the public school system.

They definitely used to be legal. If you look at the early history of some older public school systems (at least 120 years old or older), you’ll find that some of them used to have, for instance, a “Male High School” and a “Female High School”.

Back then schools could be segregated by race, too.

Now, not.

I realize it’s not exactly the same thing, but the issue is whether *Brown * extends to sex segregation, and if so, how?

It is complicated by the fact that racial discrimination is analyzed under the strict scrutiny standard while sex discrimination is analyzed under a more lenient intemediate-scrutiny standard.

The article that I cited before explores these questions.

The cases are less than clear on the issue. On the one hand, “Parties who seek to defend gender-based government action must demonstrate an “exceedingly persuasive justification” for that action.” United States v. Virginia (1996). On the other, the Court seemed willing to entertain a separate but equal analysis–it found the proposed Virginia Women’s Institute for Leadership (VWIL) was not equivalent to VMI:

On the other other hand, we now have a very different Court. Rehnquist and O’Connor both joined in the decision of the Court, and Thomas didn’t take part in the decision.

FWIW, the high schools in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana (suburban New Orleans) were segregated by sex until 1981. The high schools in nearby St. Bernard Parish were segregated by sex as of 1988 – they’re not now segregated, but I don’t know when they were integrated.

When I was in HS (1950-54), there were two academic high schools in Philadelphia, Central HS and The HS for Girls (known as Girl’s High). The first was restricted to boys and the second to girls. At some point there was a law suit and Central became coed. Since no boy wanted to go to a school called Girl’s High (but it sounds ideal to me now), that remained restricted to girls. I assume it still is.

It would probably be easier to have one high school but segregate the classes.

Aren’t some schools already doing that? I’m proposing basicallt the same thing, but on a larger scale. So we know there’s at least one public all-girl HS in the US, is there an all-boy one? A 2 HS district might not be the best example either. I suppose (unless someone’s already doing) it’d likely be tried in a large urban district with many schools.

There are already public single-gender schools. Probably they are constitutional under the national constitution; the SCotUS has never accorded gender discrimination the same protected status that it has accorded to race and nationality discrimination.

Louisiana tends to be pretty good at that type of thing. I am the youngest person I have ever met (from elsewhere) that went to racially segregated public schools. I am 33 and I attended segregated schools through first grade in 1980. They weren’t technically segregated because they just drew a school district line through the middle our small town that was about half white and half black. Exactly one black kid and two white kids fell into the unintended school districts.

Most people think that segregation went away in the 50’s and 60’s but it was kept alive and well through ingenuity in some places. Both my parents taught at the black school.

I am sure you can find an example of about anything if you look hard enough.

There’s also the theory that you should push for gender-segregated schools if you have daughters or push for coed if you have sons. The idea is based on maturity levels, and that if you’ve got a bunch of boys still making fart jokes, the girls will “raise the bar” so to speak, and provide academic stimulus (and other varieties I suppose) for the boys, but if you remove the boys from the equation, the girls a free to get on with learning unimpeded.

My Mother graduated from Eastern High School in Baltimore City in 1961 and it was an all girls public high school. I can’t seem to find anything on the web to support that claim, but you’re welcome to come over and look at the yearbook sometime. The school closed sometime in the 80’s and was used as a parking lot for Memorial Stadium, until the stadium was torn down along with the heyday of the Orioles.

You know, replace gender with race or culture in your statement and consider the implications. I went to a public high school that even went as far as to carefully avoid the implication that there are two well-defined genders, so I’m guessing it wouldn’t fly here.

Some think it’s less clear cut: ACLU Single-Sex Notice of Intent Comments to the Department of Education | American Civil Liberties Union
and see the materials I cited previously.

and see, Vorchheimer v. School District of Philadelphia, 532 F.2d 880 (3d Cir. 1975), aff’d by an equally divided Court, 430 U.S. 703 (1977) (permitting separate but equal high school facilities for boys and girls).

I know about the all-girls HS in Philadelphia, but are there any public all-boys schools in the country? All-male seems to be rarer than all-female.

Yes. Here is a list of single-sex schools:


It didn’t even occur to me that the concept of girls maturing noticeably faster than boys (on average) was in any way controversial. Is it?