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School Board willing to hear plan for single-sex classrooms

Hernando County's on-again, off-again plans to try single-gender classrooms are back on the table.

In a brief discussion at the end of a workshop session Tuesday, School Board members agreed they'd let Westside Elementary School develop a pilot program. But they said the final plan would be subject to board approval.

"My feeling is it (participation) should be voluntary, it should not be mandatory," said Chairman Pat Fagan. "I would think it would definitely come back before the board before we implement it."

Westside principal Charles Johnson drew criticism in June after saying he planned to notify parents by letter that their children would participate in such a single--sex class program, and allowing them to opt out.

He said he planned to gather data to study the program's effectiveness, but board members questioned the selection process.

Johnson said he'd been prompted to consider single-sex classes after noting Westside's practice of grouping students by ability had resulted in large numbers of boys in lower-achieving classes. He pointed to research from the National Association for Single-Sex Education showing both genders can benefit from teachers who address their specific learning styles.

But it was the board attorney's interpretation of the Title IX federal gender-equity law that put a stop to that effort in the spring. Even though hundreds of schools have tried it, attorney J. Paul Carland said, the practice technically wasn't allowed under the federal law.

That changed in October, when the federal Education Department issued rules authorizing single-sex classrooms or schools as long as a "substantially equal" coed alternative is available for students.

Participation in such a program must be voluntary under the new rules.

Tom Marshall can be reached at or (352) 848-1431.