AUSTIN (KXAN) - There was an extremely low turnout Tuesday night at a public hearing on a controversial topic that drew dozens of Austin parents throughout the weekend -- dividing up the boys and girls in two East Austin middle schools.
Only eight people showed up to speak to Austin Independent School District Superintendent Meria Carstarphen and a handful of school board members. The meeting was over in less than 30 minutes.
All eight said they were against turning Pearce College Prep Academy and Garcia Middle School into separate girls and boys campuses.
They disagreed with research the district has cited that suggests girls and boys learn at different rates.
"We know what works and it's not separating them by gender and having the same people teach them with the same deficits," said retired teacher Deanna Mercer. "We need to grow administrators and grow teachers."
While there was a small crowd Tuesday, dozens of parents and community members showed up to a town hall meeting Saturday at LBJ High School in East Austin to express both support and opposition to the plan.
The district is trying to come up with a solution to reverse a pattern of low state test scores, particularly at Pearce Middle School. The campus was shut down by the state and reopened as a college prep academy several years ago.
According to a survey given to all Austin ISD students, a greater percentage of students at Pearce and Garcia have friends involved in gang activity and have used marijuana and alcohol.
The number of teen pregnancies at Pearce and Garcia is also double that of other Austin schools.
Last school year, there were about 450 girls and 500 boys who attended both middle schools.
Part of the potential plan for the two single-gender schools includes a college prep curriculum, school uniforms and increased interaction with families.
University of Texas Psychologist Rebecca Bigler put out a report last fall that said single-gender schools are not superior to coed campuses. She stepped up to the microphone Tuesday night.
"The Department of Education has declared that basing curriculum on gender stereotypes is unconstitutional," said Bigler. "As a part of that, the American Civil Liberties Union has started a national campaign to sue schools doing single-sex schools much like AISD has proposed."
KXAN News tried to talk to school board member Cheryl Bradley after Tuesday's meeting. The two schools are in her district. She said she was too angry to talk, but did not say why.
At past school board meetings and work sessions, Bradley has been highly supportive of the single-gender campuses.
The school board was expected to vote on the plan at the end of the month so the district has enough time to make the changes for the 2013-2014 school year, but the vote could be postponed.
The board is expected to discuss the plan at their next meeting.
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