Janice Gallimore, the chairman of the board of education in Greene County, Ga., wants critics to understand the advantages of single-sex education, before rejecting it. She thinks there is a "fear of change."
"Give it a chance, try it," she said. "I think, once people understand the advantages, it will work out."
Next fall, public schools in Greene County may be the first to implement single-sex education. By separating students by gender, educators hope to improve low test scores, and cut down on teen pregnancy and disciplinary issues, which trouble most of the school system in that rural district.
"Our high school still ranks 332 out of 369 schools in Georgia," said Shawn McCollough, superintendent of the Greene County schools. "So, it's pretty alarming when you see you're that close to the bottom."
The board of education approved the measure in a unanimous vote last week. The sports and band programs will remain mixed, and boys and girls will continue to ride the same buses to school. Only the academic programs will be segregated.
Gallimore pointed out that many young parents choose not to move to Greene County because of the less than satisfactory performance of the public schools. Most of the county's demographic is black and middle class, or low income.
Gallimore said that teachers will be trained for gender-specific learning styles, and will have the opportunity to teach more effectively and optimize student performance.
"Girls tend to do better in small groups. Quiet time. Boys tend to do better when they are able to express themselves," Gallimore explained.
McCollough pointed out, "All of the research says that when you go to single gender schools, it's positive improvements for the kids. We've got a school district that needs immediate change."
Leonard Sax, of the National Association for Single Sex Public Education, disagrees.
"Parents know best. Co-education is not the best way. Single sex is not the best way. We need to educate parents of the benefits of each format, so parents choose," he said. "You cannot try to compel every child to be in a single-sex classroom. That is wrong."
Click here to read about specific circumstances in which single-sex education is illegal.
"This proposal is completely out of step with what parents want. Parents want to be consulted about how kids will be educated. They don't want to be told that you, the parent, have no say," Sax said.
David Chadwell, the coordinator for single-sex education in the South Carolina Department of Education, agreed.
"What they're doing is not legal. You cannot force an entire group of people to be in single-gender education. Period. I think that's pretty clear," he said. "Single-sex education is a wonderful opportunity for many students, but, by law, it has to be a choice in the public school system."
According to Chadwell, segregating the sexes in Greene County would be legal only if every single parent in the county agreed on it.
"If the district attorney in Greene County is saying it's legal," Chadwell said, "well, there's just no backing for that."
Despite this criticism, Chadwell says he supports single-sex education for three primary reasons:
When offered this option, he said, it immediately gets students, parents, teachers and the schools, themselves, engaged in examination of classes and policies. Second, single-sex education eliminates some of the distractions and social pressures that come with having boys and girls in the same classroom, wanting to impress and interact with one another in academic classes where high-stakes testing is involved. Third, teachers can implement lessons that play to the general strengths of each gender.
"There's a better chance you have better retention and, more importantly, you have students that enjoy school more," he said. "Teachers can build a community of boys and a community of girls that will help them be much more accepting of each other, than in a coed classroom."
Diana Meehan, the founding director of the Archer School for Girls in Los Angeles, California, argues that there is a need for single sex education.
"In a single sex school, like our school in Los Angeles, the girls not only have a say in what they rules are, but they play all the rules. They're the class clowns there. They're classical scholars, they're the chemists. And that alone is a big factor in leadership because they see themselves as being able to do a wide variety of things and that's a huge difference." she said.
Meehan added that the teaching approach can be catered to the way male and female brains work. "The research is only about 30 years old but we do know that male and female brains do operate differently and therefore you have different skills that you can emphasize and different approaches. Socially, there are huge differences."
Greene County school parent Cynthia Brown seemed bothered by the idea. "It is like they are bringing segregation back, you know. I don't like it. I don't like it at all." she said.
"I think they should give it a chance," Debra Yearwood, a grandparent, insisted. "Evidently what we have now is not working. So, why not give this a chance?"
Sax and Chadwell say that, as long as even one parent disagrees with a district-wide, single-sex education system, the measure cannot hold.
"All it takes is for one parent to make a call to the ACLU," Chadwell said.
McCollough is skeptical of critical parents' opposition to the plan.
"I question why people would throw rocks at an initiative like this. Rather than throw rocks, and try to knock it down, give me some better solutions."