A single-sex charter school planned for Chatham County was greenlighted Wednesday by the Charter School Advisory Board (CSAB).
The advisory board’s approval came in the wake of a letter submitted by leaders of the School of the Arts for Boys Academy (SABA) explaining how the schools meets the standard needed to qualify to operate as a single-sex school.
The State Board of Education (SBE) could approve the school’s charter as soon as next month.
The state board asked the school to explain how it will meet the standards to operate as a single-sex school to establish a record to show that the school had a justifiable reason for limiting student enrollment to a single sex.
Federal law bans sex discrimination in educational institutions that receive federal funds. New rules adopted in 2006 allowed single sex schools and classrooms as long as enrollment is voluntary. Coeducational schools and classes must also be of “substantially equal” quality for members of the excluded sex.
The law also provides districts the authority to offer a single-sex school if “such an actions constitutes remedial or affirmative action.”
In North Carolina, single-gender charters were allowed in North Carolina in 2014 after Senate Bill 793 (the Charter School Modifications Bill) was signed into law.
The law prohibits charters from limiting admissions to students on the basis of “intellectual ability, measures of achievement or aptitude, athletic ability, disability, race, creed, national origin, religion, or ancestry.”
But the law states that a charter “whose mission is single-sex education may limit admission on the basis of sex.”
Single-sex charters must also make efforts to ensure the school’s enrollment reflect racial and ethnic population that resides in the district or the racial and ethnic population of the “special population” that the school seeks to serve.
The Americans Civil Liberties Union has been a vocal opponent of single-sex schools. The ACLU contends that such schools are illegal and that the logic behind them is not sound.
“These programs are often based on questionable science about how girls’ and boys’ brains develop and on disturbing gender stereotypes,” the ACLU Women’s Rights Project said in a statement posted on the group’s website.
SABA founder and head of school Valencia Toomer said there is a large and widening achievement gap between Black and Hispanic male students and their white peers.
Toomer said end-of-grade test results for the 2018-19 school year showed that on average, Black boys in grades 3-8 are 37% behind their white peers and Hispanic boys 30% behind them in reading and math.
She said SABA will bridge the achievement gap and disparities in discipline through culturally responsive teaching and learning, the N.C. Standard Course of Study, and other educational programs and strategies proven to improve academic achievement.
“SABA will integrate an arts-focused curriculum that will specifically increase opportunities, traditionally not afforded to low-income boys,” Toomer added. “An arts education expands the knowledge and brain to focus on higher order thinking and learning when in a positive relationship with the teacher, which also develops better attendance and reduces the dropout rate.”
SABA would be open to any eligible male, regardless of color.
The state board asked SABA to answer three questions:
- What is the objective of the charter school?
- How is the charter school’s decision to limit admission to a single sex related to that objective?
- What facts support the charter school’s determination that limiting admission to a single
“It was determined that those questions would be asked of other charter schools that are currently in operation that are single-sex schools so that we have in the record the reason for the justification of a single-sex school that omits half of the student population,” said SBE attorney Allison Schafer.
There is currently one other single-sex charter school operating in North Carolina. The Girls Leadership Academy of Wilmington (G.L.O.W. Academy) opened in August 2016.
SABA now moves on to the state board who will determine whether it meets the standards to operate as a single-sex school.
Advisory board member Jamey Falkenbury said Toomer cites “hard evidence” for an all male school in Chatham County.
“I just think this would be a huge missed opportunity for this community if this doesn’t get unanimously passed and sent to the state board for its approval,” Falkenbury said.
He added: “They [SABA leaders] touch on that there aren’t these opportunities for young men in this state, and we do already have a school for females.”