NJ school district bans trainings based on gender differences

A New Jersey school district has agreed not to use training methods promoted by a group that stresses gender differences and holds positions including that girls don't perform as well on timed tests as boys because they are threatened by pressure and that boys are bored more easily.

The West Milford Township School District had contracted with the Spokane, Washington-based Gurian Institute for teacher training sessions on three occasions in 2017. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a complaint about those trainings last year with the state Division on Civil Rights.

In an agreement signed this week, the school district said it would instruct its teachers not to use the Gurian Institute's methods in their classrooms and to return the training materials issued in 2017. The district also will provide anti-discrimination and anti-bias training to teachers and administrators.

In an email Friday, West Milford Schools Superintendent Alex Anemone said the district "is excited to partner with the ACLU and the New Jersey Division of Civil Rights to continue to provide a safe, secure and inclusive learning environment for all our students."

About 4,000 students attend pre-kindergarten through 12th grade in West Milford, about 30 miles northwest of New York City.

On its website, the Gurian Institute refers to its work as "a powerful deep dive into the minds of boys and girls that has been proven successful in helping schools and communities throughout the world." The website features links to numerous newspaper articles focused on single-gender learning, and lists dozens of public, private and faith-based schools around the country that it says have implemented its methods successfully.

In a phone interview Friday, Gurian Institute co-founder Michael Gurian criticized the ACLU's action as "a political frame."

"This doesn't have anything to do with education," Gurian said.

According to the state civil rights division, the training materials distributed to West Milford teachers included "stereotypes about what boys and girls are interested in" and recommended that teachers instruct students based on those stereotypes - for instance, assigning girls relationship-oriented books rather than action-oriented books, and placing them in small, non-competitive math and science groups.

"Stereotypes have no place in the classroom," said Elyla Huertas, an attorney who worked on the case for the ACLU. "All school districts should be looking to evidence-based strategies to support students, not learning styles based on gender."