- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The District’s attorney general says the city’s plan to open an all-boys college preparatory high school doesn’t run afoul of federal laws to protect education equality for girls, and the mayor plans to have the school up-and-running for the 2016 school year.

Attorney General Karl Racine said the high school, part of Mayor Murial Bowser’s Empowering Males of Color initiative, is designed to address education achievement gaps by black and Hispanic boys in D.C. Public Schools and would not undermine similar educational opportunities that already exist for girls,

“Addressing this achievement gap that has tragically come to define the District’s least academically successful students is without question an important District of Columbia government objective for purposes of an equal protection analysis,” Mr. Racine wrote in an opinion issued Monday in response to a request by D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh to review the plan.

Both Ms. Cheh and the American Civil Liberties Union of the Nation’s Capital raised concerns about the legality of the $20 million DCPS plan, which would also establish a mentoring program for male students and an awards fund that would provide money to pay for initiatives that increase student and family engagement.

Ms. Cheh said she was glad to see educational opportunities for at-risk youth discussed in depth but said Mr. Racine’s justification of the plan didn’t convince her that an all-boys school was required to close the achievement gap.

“If the government treats boys and girls differently it can do so but it has to meet a high bar,” said Ms. Cheh, a constitutional law professor and Ward 3 Democrat. “You have to have a really good reason to do it and show the means you are using substantially serves that objective and that there is no gender-neutral way to get there.”

SEE ALSO: ACLU bristles at Bowser proposal for all-boys high school

Mr. Racine noted numerous programs already exist for girls, including Excel Academy, a pre-K through 6th grade all-girls charter school in the District; New Heights Program for Expectant and Parenting Students, an alternative program that mostly enrolls female students; and existing co-ed application-based high schools that offer college preparatory courses all provide equal opportunities to girls.

Operating a single-sex school in and of itself isn’t illegal, but according to U.S. Department of Education regulations, public schools that segregate by gender must offer “substantially equal” benefits for the opposite sex or fall under an exemption offered for standalone public charter schools.

Ms. Bowser’s spokeswoman Latoya Foster said the mayor will be moving forward with the plans for the school, which would be run in partnership with Chicago-based Urban Prep Academies, and hoped the initiative would create “a level playing field” for minority boys in the school system.

DCPS has provided few details about the all-boys high school it plans to open in the 2016-2017 school year, saying only that it will serve about 500 students, be located east of the Anacostia River and run in conjunction with Urban Prep Academies, which runs three successful all-boys schools in Chicago.

“Urban Prep is a college preparatory high school serving mostly lower-income boys of color, whose students have had a 100% college acceptance rate over the past five years,” Mr. Racine wrote. “It is reasonable to conclude that Urban Prep’s success is to an extent owed to its single-gender model for the particular challenges of the boys of color in that city enrolled in the program.”

The ACLU has brought lawsuits and filed complaints with the U.S. Department of Education in the past to block single-sex schools and education practices they believe are illegal. It was unclear if the District would face any legal challenges over the school as it moves forward. Officials with the District’s branch of the ACLU were still reviewing Mr. Racine’s analysis of the plan and declined to immediately comment.

Mr. Racine said he was prepared to defend the initiative in court if challenged.

• Andrea Noble can be reached at anoble@washingtontimes.com.

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