ACLU often Targets Schools When they Try Innovative Approaches to Safety, Security, Discipline, Climate and Culture

In a story on MSNBC, Robin Gilbert said she tried to improve school climate and culture by splitting up male and female students at her elementary school in rural southwestern Idaho. However, her Idaho School is one of dozens that are being targeted by the ACLU around the nation for this practice.  According to MSNBC, single sex educational programs have been dropped in schools across the nation due to pressure from the ACLU.

The ACLU has a long history of attacking school officials for their efforts to maintain effective and safe learning environments while failing to offer schools viable alternatives that meet their beliefs.  For example, the ACLU has been deeply critical of almost any utilization of arrest for criminal conduct by students even though this approach is believed by many school safety practitioners to be one of the reasons for the significant dramatic drop in school homicides since more schools began assigning police officers to their campuses over the past fifteen years.  The ACLU recommends that students rarely be arrested and offers instead an approach that is by its very nature likely to increase rather than decrease the collection of  accurate data on  school  crime.  As the proper reporting, tracking and analysis of school crime and disciplinary incidents is required to match prevention and mitigation strategies to need and to assess their effectiveness, this approach has left many school safety experts and practitioners concerned with its validity.  While prosecution may not always be the best answer, a return to the common practice of covering up school crime during the time period of our nation’s highest school homicide rates could prove to be a dangerous approach for schools.

Gilbert told MSNBC that the attack frustrates her, “but it makes the work harder.” 

The approach Gilbert and many other educators have adopted is in response to research that shows that boys, particularly minority students, have lower graduation rates and are performing at lower levels than female students.  MSNBC reports that representatives of The National Association for Single Sex Public Education, estimates that about 500 public schools across the nation utilize this approach to some extent.

The ACLU counters that this approach which is designed to reduce gender distraction such as flirting, is a violation of Title IX and is unconstitutional.  The organization questions the practice as it has a right to do.  The ACLU must follow the course it deems best to pursue its goals and this type of case is no exception.  At the same time, we should consider the effect of this type  of litigation and threats of litigation on our school organizations.  There are times where fear of litigation is a positive factor to help drive much needed change.  At the same time, there can be situations where school officials who are afraid of being litigated can fail to move to correct serious problems.  This is one of the challenges of a free society like ours and creates a situation where achieving perfect balance is not always possible. 

The ACLU has certainly had a positive effect on our schools.  One prominent example is the landmark Brown V. Board of Education case which has unquestionably made our country a better place.  At the same time, the group has challenged school officials for a wide array of issues ranging from efforts to address gang activity and other types of violence.  Many efforts of the ACLU involve threats to sue rather than the actual litigation of school districts.  My district experienced this when the ACLU sent our superintendent a threatening letter relating to our random metal detection program.  Our superintendent decided to ignore the threat and continued the program without hearing further from the group.  Though the ACLU has lost many of its battles with school officials, it has won some landmark cases and is often able to pressure schools into changing policies because districts and their insurance providers are unwilling to pay for costly court battles with such a well-funded legal group. 

This type of pressure is one of the many reasons so many school organizations have difficulty in making decisions relating to school safety, security, climate and culture.  The ever looming concern that litigation may arise from almost any attempt to break from traditional approaches makes some education leaders more likely to accept problems they face rather than to attempt to find innovative solutions.

About Michael Dorn

Michael Dorn serves as the Executive Director of Safe Havens International, a non-profit school safety center. The author of 27 books on school safety, Michael’s campus safety work has taken him to 11 countries over the past 34 years.