White women protest single-gendered school

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At a Pittsburgh Board of Education public hearing where testimony was overwhelmingly directed at the restructuring of Westinghouse High School, few African-Americans participated. Those who did testify at the July 12 meeting did not have children who would be affected by the changes and their voices were lost behind a group of White women who have deemed the proposed single-gender academies as a practice of sexual apar­theid.

LoneReed
LONE SUPPORTER—Arita Gilliam stands alone with the only testimony in favor of single-gender academies at Westinghouse High School.

“It is difficult to see this proposal as anything other than a ‘Hail Mary’ play, to try something—anything—to fix the problems of low achievement and low enrollment in the Pittsburgh Public Schools. But this is a very harmful proposal that will solve neither,” said Jeanne Clark, president of the Squirrel Hill Chapter of the National Organization for Women. “Since no data has been publicly revealed to justify the reasoning, one can only guess about that reasoning.”

Last month the district announced their plans to transform Westinghouse High School into a 6-12 single-gender academy. Both sexes would attend the school but classes would be either all female or male. Under this new proposal Peabody would close and students would be moved to Westinghouse.

Several who testified at the hearing claimed the proposal was unconstitutional, explaining that it violates Title IX, the Equal Opportunity in Education Act.

Opposes
OPPOSES PLAN—Jeanne Clark opposes the single-gendered school proposal.

“In addition, Pennsylvania’s Constitution has an Equal Rights Amendment, which makes gender discrimination a suspect class, on a par with race discrimination. This proposed policy will not survive a state challenge, and such a legal case could be very costly to taxpayers,” Clark said. “I and others are more than willing to work with the board, the administration and the Title IX coordinator to actually enforce Title IX and to create a true learning atmosphere for all. Or, if you go forward with this proposal, we will join in a lawsuit against you.”

In a sea full of opposition for the new school, the voice of Arita Gilliam stood out as the only voice of support. Gilliam, who works as the school health coordinator for the UPMC Shadyside School Health Partnership, said the students at Westinghouse are in need of a change.

“I recognize that many question the district’s ability to provide rigorous, quality education to students whose parents do not exercise choice, but as a participant in the deliberations which led to the recommendation for the East End, I believe that with concerted professional development and preparation, the single-gender academy is the ideal option for students who will attend the East End High School,” Gilliam said. “I find these arguments to be disingenuous, considering that there has been no similar, vocal objection to the race-segregated schools that currently exist in the East End.”

As a participant in the planning process for the East End schools, Gilliam said the committee conducted research into the effectiveness of single-gender schools. However, others at the hearing who spoke to Gilliam said research showed these schools were no more or less successful.

“According to researchers, youth with previous poor grades and test scores who are moved to single-gender schools do better on standardized tests and show higher levels of leadership behavior in school, do more homework, take stronger course loads and have higher educational expectations,” said Gilliam. “Also, their attendance is improved, there are fewer discipline referrals and they come to have higher levels of control over their environment and more favorable attitudes towards school.”

Regardless of their position on the issue, most of those who testified were concerned with how quickly the school board would vote on the proposal, with the date set for July 21. They requested that the community be given more time and information before a decision is made. However, even if it is approved, it will not be implemented until next year which gives parents and concerned citizens a year to make sure it’s implemented properly.

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