The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey said Wednesday that it has filed a petition with the state Department of Education on behalf of a Mays Landing mother who claims the Cape May County Special Services School is segregating students with disabilities based on gender.
District officials have responded that students are not segregated by gender but according to their age, disability and level of functioning.
The parent, Susan Coll-Guedes wants her 12-year-old son, a student at the school’s Ocean Academy, in a co-educational class because she believes he excels academically and socially in an integrated environment.
His classes have been co-educational since he began attending pre-kindergarten there in 2006, but the complaint says students are segregated by gender in grades six through eight — and have been since her son began attending the school. The boy was originally placed at the Cape May County Special Services School because it had a program best suited to his disabilities.
The complaint says the district has notified Coll-Guedes that since they cannot give her the program she wants, they will terminate her son’s enrollment there effective June 30.
In the complaint, Coll-Guedes said the segregated classes offer different learning opportunities based on gender stereotypes. The girls engage in dress-up play, dance, and trips to the mall and beauty salon. The boys classes are pre-vocational and focus on skills such as landscaping. She said the activities in the girls classes are better suited to her son’s interests, which include singing and dancing.
In response to an Open Public Records Act request from the ACLU, school district attorney Michael Stanton submitted a letter saying that the Special Services School District does not have a policy on single-gender education, nor does it operate a single-gender education program. It notes that the population of Ocean Academy is 70 percent male and 30 percent female.
The letter says class sizes are very small, and that there are some classes that are all male and one class that is all female, but students are assigned based on their age, disability and level of functioning. Students also attend lunch and other special classes together that are all co-educational.
Frank Corrado, the attorney representing Coll-Guedes on behalf of the ACLU, said they will have to prove that the segregation by gender in those grades is intentional. He said Coll-Guedes is looking at other options if her son cannot continue at Ocean Academy, but they are hoping the situation can be resolved.
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