By Vernon Loeb Special to Education Week
from February 1983
Feb 2, 1983 - Philadelphia--Final arguments in a highly publicized suit filed by three girls seeking admission to Philadelphia's all-male Central High School concluded last week in Common Pleas Court here after a bevy of opposing experts testified on the alleged strengths and weaknesses of single-sex education.
See related story on pages 12-13.
The three girls, Elizabeth Newburg, Pauline H. King, and Jessica S. Bonn, all 16, testified during the trial that the School District of Philadelphia's single-sex admissions policy at Central violated their 14th Amendment rights to equal protection, as well as their rights under the Equal Rights Amendment to the Pennsylvania constitution.
Central, they told Judge William M. Marutani, is the finest secondary school in Philadelphia and one of the finest in the nation.
Established by an act of the Pennsylvania Legislature in 1836, Central is the second oldest public high school in America and remains the school district's elite citywide aca-demic school for boys. Two of the three plaintiffs, Ms. King and Ms. Bonn, are students at the Philadelphia High School for Girls, Central's academic counterpart.
The girls' attorneys produced two expert witnesses during the trial, which began January 18--Dr. Michelle Fine of the University of Pennsylvania and Dr. Rhoda Unger of New Jersey's Montclair State College--to show that single-sex schools perpetuate sexual stereotypes and that all-male institutions are generally regarded by society with higher esteem than all-female institutions.
Experts Of Their Own
Attorneys for the school district countered with experts of their own--Dr. Vivian Center Seltzer of the University of Pennsylvania; Dr. Sally Kilgore, an author on high-school achievement; and Dr. Carole Leland, who directed a recent study at Brown University called "Men and Women Learning Together in the '70's"--in an atttempt to show that benefits in personal development and gains in achievement can result from single-sex educational settings.
The school district, the nation's fifth largest, has maintained throughout the trial that Central and Girls' High are each other's academic equal. The district's attorneys have also stated that single-sex schools provide an educational alternative that should be maintained.
"No one's required to go to Central High School or to the Philadelphia High School for Girls," Barry M. Klaymon, one of the attorneys representing the district, said in an interview after final arguments had been presented. "They're optional programs like the magnet programs. And there are real benefits from the single-sex environment."
Rita H. Bernstein of the Philadelphia-based Women's Law Project, one of the girls' attorneys, countered that she did not think the district had met the burden of proof enunciated by the U.S. Supreme Court in cases involving sex classifications in public institutions: That such a clasification has an important governmental purpose and that the sex-classification is closely related to the accomplishment of that purpose, she said.