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School officials disagree over co-ed gym classes

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

When Northview High School students report to gym class, their gender may determine the activities in which they're allowed to participate.

Northview is one of a number of Indiana schools that separates its gym classes by gender, a practice some experts say violates federal law.

The Federal Title IX legislation, which was passed in 1972 to ensure that females had the same educational opportunities as males in public schools, mandates that physical education classes be co-ed. Exceptions are made for activities involving bodily contact or if teachers are discussing sexuality.

Northview Principal Jim Church said the school's master schedule includes a delineation between boys' and girls' PE, and male and female gym students are taught by separate instructors.

Church said the distinction is made with the best interests of the students in mind. He said some gym class activities, including basketball and other contact sports, pose a safety concern when male and female students participate side-by-side.

"Those things can get kind of rough," he said. "I just don't see boys and girls together in those activities."

Mary Curtis, an assistant athletic director at the University of Iowa who has commented on Title IX compliance in the East Allen County (Ind.) School system, takes issue with that viewpoint.

"It wouldn't stand up in court, I'll tell you that," she said. "The fact that they have single-sex classes, if someone made a complaint they would not have a leg to stand on, according to federal law."

Church pointed out that Northview's advanced PE classes, which emphasize conditioning and weight training, are fully co-educational, but the classes enroll far more boys than girls. He added that he is considering a shift to a progressive physical education program at the high school, emphasizing physical fitness, nutrition and overall health.

At Clay City Jr./Sr. High School, male and female PE students are taught by one instructor and share in the same activities. Clay City Principal Jeff Bell said logistical issues have prevented the administration from even considering gender-separated gym classes. The school's compliance to Title IX is largely incidental.

"(Co-ed classes are) almost imperative, with class scheduling, the number of kids and the number of teachers," he said.

But Bell added that he has observed the benefits of co-ed gym classes, and considers them a valuable opportunity for inter-gender interaction.

"They're at a stage where they're getting more into socializing with the other gender," he said. "The biggest advantage for both genders are the social skills, the aid in the maturation process."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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