Board veers away from gender mandate

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GREENSBORO --- Some pupils in the Greene County School District's elementary and middle schools are headed for gender-separate classes when the next school year begins in August -- a dramatic change officials think will lift up the struggling school district.

After backing away from a mandate for all the county's public school pupils to be segregated by gender, the Greene County Board of Education voted Friday for a different but still sweeping course.

Next school year, parents in grades 3 through 8 will be able to choose gender-separate classes for math, science, social studies and language arts.

Superintendent Shawn McCollough plans to survey all the parents to find out how many are interested in the single-gender alternative. Until then, Mr. McCollough said he won't know how much the change is going to cost or how much extra space or faculty the school district will need.

The plan, presented with few details during a contentious three-hour meeting Friday, did not satisfy many of the parents and community members who packed the board's meeting room.

The meeting began with Mr. McCollough retracing the steps that brought the board to this point. It ended with two board members asking colleagues to consider calling for his resignation, a motion that failed to come to a vote.

A unanimous vote in February for the single-gender mandate made national news, but angry parents complained they were left out of the process. Experts, including attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union, said the original plan was illegal because it didn't offer parents any choice.

Though school officials later pulled back and consulted parents, administrators and faculty, many in the community are too hurt to support or trust them, said Frances Copeland, the mother of three Greene County students.

"It's not really about the changes; a lot of us will try the changes," Ms. Copeland said Friday after the meeting. "It's about the undermining stuff, the secrets. There are still a lot of bitter parents."

In two 3-2 votes Friday -- a split among the board that has become common in recent weeks -- board members approved single-gender options at the district's two elementary schools.

The elementary schools will be called "elementary academies" after the district incorporates sixth grade into Greensboro Elementary and Union Point Elementary.

Board members voted unanimously, however, for single-gender classes at the failing Anita White Carson Middle School.

The school will be a junior high school and encompass only seventh and eighth grades.

Greene County High School will remain a traditional, mixed-gender school, though board members said some kind of change needs to be made there.

Board Chairwoman Janice Gallimore called for the community to heal now that the board has amended its plan.

But Friday's meeting displayed the divides that continue in the community.

At one point, Ms. Gallimore called a recess to stop a dispute with board member Deborah Smith. Discussions broke down twice before Mr. McCollough even made his official recommendations.

A move by Mr. McCollough to remove the name of Anita Carson, a longtime teacher in the district, from the name of the middle school provoked angry reactions from people who spoke during a public comment session -- including Ms. Carson herself.

Board member Velicia Cobb, who along with Ms. Smith tried to put a motion calling for Mr. McCollough's resignation up for a vote, pressed Mr. McCollough for the details of the single-gender classes plan.

"We don't have a specific cost because we haven't surveyed the parents specifically on who would like to go to single-gender education and who would not," Mr. McCollough said.


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