ACLU asks Lawrence schools to suspend mentoring program

The American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas has asked the Lawrence School District and Free State High School to suspend a pilot program for mentoring boys over concerns that it violates Title IX.

The Journal-World obtained a letter written by ACLU legal director Doug Bonney to Lawrence school district Superintendent Rick Doll. In it, Bonney argues the program, which features 15 boys and no girls, violates Title IX.

Title IX is a federal law that bans discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity.

Through a spokesperson, Doll said he had not received a letter from the ACLU regarding the program and would prefer not to comment until after seeing it and discussing it with staff.

The LEAP Ambassador Program at Free State pairs 15 boys with various members of the community, including school administrators (including Doll), financial industry professionals and even former Kansas University basketball player Wayne Simien. Students and mentors first convened in December, officials said, and held another function Wednesday at the school.

It was created by Free State assistant principal Keith Jones, with the help of the Lawrence Education Achievement Partners, a program run by the Lawrence Schools Foundation that encourages community partnerships with schools.

Before Wednesday’s function, Jones said the program’s aim was teaching leadership and professionalism skills. He and Lawrence Schools Foundation’s Adina Morse said it was a pilot program they hoped would spread to all students in other district schools.

Jones said one reason the group was reserved for males is because males as a group tend to graduate at a lower rate than females.

According to Lawrence school district data, 95.3 percent of girls graduated after the 2013-14 school year, while 88.2 percent of boys did. Females have posted a better graduation rate than males in Lawrence since at least the 2009-10 school year.

“We’re trying to foster some leadership characteristics in them,” Jones said.

Jones also said of the boys in the group: “They all have different experiences but by no means are these kids targeted because their grades are bad.”

Jones was not made available for comment Thursday.

“It’s outrageous, frankly,” Bonney said in an interview. “One of the problems with the glass ceiling is that women do not have these social connections with business people, educators.”

This is the second time in a month the ACLU has contacted the district about Title IX concerns. On Jan. 12, the organization wrote to Doll about male-only and female-only English classes that had been established at Free State. Those types of settings can be legally created, but Doll replied to the ACLU two days later that the classes had been eliminated, according to a letter received by the Journal-World.

“There are federal guidelines that provide specific protocol for creating such a setting, guidelines that I was unaware of when originally moving forward,” Free State principal Ed West said in an email to the Journal-World at the time. “It has certainly been a learning experience.”