Co-educational public schools must ensure that male and female students are fully integrated in educational activities.
This concern carries new relevance Friday, after a ruling by the English Court of Appeals that a publicly-funded Islamic school in Birmingham cannot lawfully segregate boys and girls. According to the court (equivalent to a U.S. federal appeals court), the al-Hijrah school in Birmingham breached its responsibilities under British equality law by segregating boys and girls.
Britain's chief school inspector, Amanda Spielman, brought the appeal after the English equivalent of a U.S. district court ruled that al-Hijrah's segregation was lawful. Spielman contended that because al-Hijrah was "teaching boys and girls entirely separately, making them walk down separate corridors, and keeping them apart at all times," it was negatively infringing on the students' rights.
I agree with the appeals court's decision. While I respect the fact that the Islamic faith teaches a variety of views on male-female interaction, no government-funded educational institution should be able to promote segregation. After all, segregation obstructs children from learning to understand and respect members of the opposite sex. Put simply, it's wrong.
By allowing male and female students to attend their school but then segregating them, al-Hijrah also embraced an inefficient means of education. Consider the complexity in ensuring that students use separate sex-specific corridors! Government should not fund such silliness.
Ultimately, the broader issue here is that al-Hijrah is a public school associated with Salafist-inclined worldview. While individuals should have the right to pursue whatever Islamic teachings they desire, government cannot allow public schools to indoctrinate students with viewpoints that fall well outside mainstream society. Just as there's a compelling state interest in ensuring black and white students are educated together, so is there a compelling state interest in rejecting segregation of the sexes.