GREENSBORO, Ga. -- Nearly four decades after this rural Georgia county stopped segregating its schools by race, it wants to divide students again -- this time by sex.
Greene County is set to become the first school district in the nation to go entirely single-sex, with boys and girls in separate classrooms -- a move born of desperation over years of poor test scores, soaring dropout rates and high numbers of teenage pregnancies.
"At the rate we're moving, we're never going to catch up," superintendent Shawn McCollough told parents in an impassioned speech last week. "If we're going to take some steps, let's take some big steps."
McCollough pointed to research showing boys and girls learn differently, and said separating them will allow teachers to tailor their lessons. Also, boys won't misbehave as much because they will no longer be trying to impress the girls, and the girls will be more likely to speak up in class because they won't be afraid to look smart in front of the boys, he said.
The school board's move to radically overhaul the system next fall has angered parents, students and teachers, who say they weren't consulted.
The measure, approved two weeks ago, applies to the high school, the middle school and both elementary schools. It exempts only the preschool and a charter school, which is public but operates independently.
"I am outraged," parent Tammi Freeman said. "I am disgusted. It's making our county look like our kids are trouble when they're not."
Leonard Sax, head of the National Association for Single Sex Public Education, called the move illegal.
Federal law allows single-sex classrooms or schools, but parents must also have the option of publicly funded coeducation for their children, Sax said.
"This is the worst kind of publicity for our movement," he said. "It misses the whole point. Our movement is about choice. One size does not fit all. Even a small school district needs to provide choice."
U.S. Education Department spokeswoman Samara Yudof said officials "do not have sufficient facts to determine if the district would be in compliance" with federal law.