The Women’s Fund of Rhode Island, RI NOW, and the ACLU of Rhode Island issued the following statement in response to Governor Lincoln Chafee’s decision today not to veto a bill that authorizes public school districts to provide sex-segregated extracurricular activities of any kind:

“In failing to veto this bill, Governor Chafee has done a great disservice to the young girls and boys of this state.  This legislation undermines the strong anti-discrimination laws that have protected Rhode Island children for decades, and allows school districts to return to a time when harmful sex stereotypes were the norm.

“This is not just about school dances. It is about science and debate clubs, and about after-school field trips that can send girls one way and boys another, reinforcing stereotypes that society has taken decades trying to eliminate.  The law also ignores, and is in direct conflict with, Title IX, the groundbreaking educational anti-discrimination law passed by Congress over forty years ago.

“In 1972, prior to the passage of Title IX, sex-segregation in schools was commonplace.  Children were ushered into classes and activities not determined by their interests, but by the narrow gender roles schools prescribed for them.  Forty years later, the implementation of anti-discrimination laws banning this behavior has had a clear effect.  In the 1980s, 1 in 13 eighth-grade girls scored in the top 0.01% of the math SAT; in 2010, 1 in 3 girls did.  In 1970, men comprised 2.7% of registered nurses in 1970, but 9.6% in 2010.  In 1972, women held 11% of the PhDs across the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields; in 2006, they held 40%.  The benefits of keeping all activities open to all students, regardless of gender, are clear.

“This is an unfortunate step backwards in the struggle for equal rights. We hope that school districts will recognize that ‘separate is equal’ is the wrong lesson to be teaching students, and will reject this law’s offer to promote discriminatory activities in their schools.”