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This article is based on the author's remarks presented at the Cornell Law Review’s February 2004 conference, “Revisiting Brown v. Board of Education," and has been published in the Cornell Law Review (vol. 90, no. 2).


Spurred on by published reports about gender bias in the schools, public single-sex schools, which had almost disappeared from the scene in the U.S. fifteen years ago, began to make a comeback in the early 1990s. In addition, in the past few years, the Bush Administration has taken measures to add momentum to this development. Does the principle that separate is inherently unequal, which the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education laid down in the context of public schools separated by race, also apply to public schools separated by sex?

Part I of this Article examines the constitutionality under the Equal Protection Clause of a school district's having an all-boys school and an all-girls school on the same grade levels. After suggesting in Part I that the fate of such coordinate public single-sex schools should be seen as intimately tied to whether they disadvantage girls, the Article in Part II considers the constitutionality of public single-sex education when it takes a form that on its face advantages girls: girls can choose between a coed and a single-sex public school, while boys can only attend a coed one. The Article suggests in closing that even if public single-sex schools pass constitutional muster, they represent too limited a response to the gender equity problems that sparked renewed interest in public single-sex education in recent years.

Date of Authorship for this Version

January 2005


Single-Sex Schools

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