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Nov/Dec 1996 Newsletter

Public Funds for Single Sex Education

This page was last updated Dec.1 1996. If questions about these press releases, or the issues they address,

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Call the NOW-NYC office at 212-260-4422 and leave your name and phone number.

Message from the President: Anne Conners - Nov/Dec 1996
At NOW-NYC, we often get request to help solve the problems of individual women and girls. While we care about all women, we often find ourselves in the position of explaining that as feminists we try to affect societal change that will help all women, not only individuals. By doing this, we are truly helping "each" woman.
So, the proposal for an all-girls public school in Harlem has a familiar ring to us. On the surface, it sound good. We are being asked to help individual girls-the handful of students who will benefit from this school. We are told that this will remedy an inequity. We are told this is a good thing for women.
But this is an illusion. Creating this separate public school violates city, state, and federal anti-discrimination law. It also flies in the face of public education's mandate to develop a literate population able to transcend historical barriers based on race and gender in society and in the workforce. It does not teach or promote tolerance, multiculturalism, or sex equity in schools or in society.
A much sounder idea would be to work toward system-wide establishment of bias-free education in all public schools, including full funding of girls' sports, which are outrageously underfunded. It does not take a separate school to increase funding for and participation in girls' sports. Implementing a strong sex equity program in public schools would truly benefit all the girls and young women in the New York City public school system.
The law is clear that public funds cannot be used to fund public accomodations which segregate men and women, boys from girls, in any kind of "separate but equal" rationalization. Although the school proposed in District 4 is a public school, the organization meetings were held in private, in secret, and the school is being backed by a private organization. What were the organizers, the Manhattan Institute, a right wing think tank, afraid of? Holding secret meetings and announcing the existence of the shcool a mere two months before it opens flies in the face of the mandate of public schools to obtain community input on crucial issues.
NOW-NYC is disappointed that Chancellor Rudy Crew and the NYC School Board did not repudiate the concept of this school and the secretive way in which it was organized. Furthermore, Chancellor Crew expanded the school's scope to encompass 7th through 12th grades.
Though proposed as such, the school is not a solution, but a Band-Aid approach to educational equity for girls. In fact, it deflects attention and energies from improving the school system for all girls. Proponents of the school have argued that it is a form of affirmative action for the girls. We reject this argument: affirmative actions has always been about inclusion , not about segregation.
By agreeing to the premise of this school, the leadership of the NYC school system has actually acknowledged the problems of girls in the classroom that NOW has been raising and fighting for all along. (The Manhattan Institute is a recent convert to the cause of educational equity but, we believe, is actually using the school as a cover to bring in the voucher system whereby public money would be used to fund private schools.
In considering the best course of education for public schools in New York, we must also ask ourselves: what about boys? Taking girls out of the classroom reinforces boys' perception that the classroom is their world, their "clubhouse" with a "no girls allowed" sign posted out front. In fact, it rewards boys and teachers for thier sexist behavior.
We need to remember that historically, our foremothers like Elizabeth Cady Stanton fought for the establishment of co-ed schools. In her time, when separate schools were established for girls, it was not because educators deemed them a more beneficial way for girls to learn. Instead, all-girl schools were formed because young women and girls were not allowed in to male schools . Frequently, these all-girls schools were finishing schools and their education quality was far below that of the boy's schools.
In 1991, an effort by activists and philanthropists to open a public high school for minority boys was defeated. This is a battle we do not need to have again. Instead, we can fight to see that:
bulletCity, state, and federal funding is increased for techical assistance to schools to implement race and gender fair policies and practices in public education.
bulletAlready existing programs on sex equity in public schools are implemented and enforced.
bulletParents are educated and organized to fight for strict enforcement of equal opportunity mandates for student access to quality public education.
bulletIn-service training for teachers and adminstrators is increased, with sessions centering on implementing equitable practices in the classroom.
bulletA bias-free curriculum which accurately reflects the achievements of women and people of color in our society.
bulletAffirmative action is implemented at all levels of the school system. This will provide critical role models needed by all students.
bulletAction is taken to increase funding for girls' sports. A 1994 report by the Chancellor's Task force on Sex Equity showed that boy's sports programs in public schools received nearly twice the funding as girls' programs from 1990 to 1993. If funding for girls' sports increases, it follows that the number of girl athletes and girls' teams will increase.

As a graduate of public high schools and colleges, and as president of NOW-NYC, I do not want to see New York City public schools take two giant steps backwards. We must not go back to an era where public schools were routinely segregated along gender lines and, not coincidentally, to a time when sex stereotypes, upheld by public institutions, prevailed in society at large- in schools, the workplace, the popular culture and the political sphere. NOW-NYC's position, while frequently distorted and portrayed by the media as extreme and anti-girl, is in fact in keeping with our longstanding principles and our stance that women should be included , not segregated or excluded, from public life. Simply put, it is our moral responsibility to take this stance. As an older woman who attended our general membership meeting where we discussed the all-girls school said, "We're in this for the long haul. This is a short term fix."
Yes, we're in this for the long haul and we will continue to fight to uphold Title IX, the Education Amendments of 1972, which states: "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subject to discrimination under any education program or activity recieving Federal financial assistance." Based on interest expressed at the general membership meeting, NOW-NYC will be forming a task force on educational equity to increase activism leading to the implementation of a sex-equity program in NYC public schools.

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