Special Services School District refused to offer any co-ed options in violation of the state’s Law Against Discrimination

NEWARK – The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) filed a petition with the state Department of Education against the Cape May County Special Services School District, a public school district, for segregating students with multiple disabilities based on sex. The petition was filed on behalf of Susan Coll-Guedes, an Atlantic County parent who wanted her son to be placed in a co-educational class because she believes he excels academically and socially in an integrated environment.

For the past several years, the district has provided co-educational classes in all grades for students with multiple disabilities, except for grades six through eight.

“Like any parent, I want my child to be in a nurturing learning environment that is conducive to his education,” said Coll-Guedes. “I believe my son should be in an environment that reflects society and prepares him to be comfortable and confident when interacting with others, including girls.”

Coll-Guedes’s 12-year-old son has attended Ocean Academy in the Cape May County Special Services School District since pre-kindergarten. When he reached sixth grade, she requested that he have classes with girls. The district refused and even rejected compromises, such as having time to interact in the hall with girls.

Coll-Guedes turned to the ACLU-NJ for help. The organization filed a public records request, seeking the district’s policies on single sex classes. The district claimed it did not have any polices segregating students based on sex and instead placed students based on “age, disability and level of functioning.” The complaint alleges that it is not plausible that the school district has made an individualized assessment of all sixth through eighth graders with multiple disabilities that has resulted in sex-segregated classes at Ocean Academy year after year.

“The law requires that all children should have equal access to educational programs, regardless of their sex,” said Frank Corrado, an attorney with Barry, Corrado & Grassi, who, along with ACLU-NJ Deputy Legal Director Jeanne LoCicero, represents Coll-Guedes. “Segregating students is a violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination and it limits opportunities for boys and girls alike.”

Coll-Guedes decided to keep her son back in the fifth grade coeducational class for the current school year. The petition has been filed with the Department of Education, which is expected to transmit it to the Office of Administrative Law for a disposition.

On May 15, the ACLU-NJ withdrew the complaint and submitted a letter to the New Jersey Department of Education and New Jersey Division of Civil Rights, asking officials to investigate the segregation of students at Ocean Academy based on sex.

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