Empowering Males of Color: District of Columbia Set to Open an All-Male High School

By: Ashley Macaysa

In January 2015, District of Columbia Mayor, Muriel Bowser, and Chancellor Kaya Henderson, announced the Empowering Males of Color (EMOC) Initiative.[1]  According to the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS), EMOC works to increase the success of Black and Latino male students.[2]  DCPS aims to elevate the student experience, increase achievement, and prepare males of color for college, careers, and life beyond DCPS.[3]

As a part of this effort, DCPS plans to open an all-male college prep high school in order to support the academic and social-development of minority males.[4]  D.C. plans to open the all-male school in the fall of 2016.[5] Ben Williams, a first-time principal, will lead D.C.’s first all-male public high school.[6] The school will be located in Ward 7’s Deanwood neighborhood, and admittance to the school will be by lottery.

Notwithstanding D.C.’s good intentions to educate and empower minority males, opening an all-male school raises a host of potential legal issues. It is unknown whether females will be permitted to attend the all-male school. As such, D.C. must meet the legal requirements of opening a single-sex school. The Districts of Columbia must comply with local and state laws as well as with federal laws such as Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.[7]

Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity.[8] Despite this, a school district is able to meet the requirements of Title IX if it offers similar programs to both males and females.[9] Additionally, gender-based classifications implicate protections afforded by the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution.[10]  Therefore, DCPS’s single-sex programs implemented must withstand intermediate scrutiny in order to pass Constitutional muster.[11]  As a result, whether a single-sex school is permissible is highly dependent on the goals of the program, the means used to achieve such goals, and whether a school district has an exceedingly persuasive justification for doing so.[12] While there is a plethora of case law regarding the constitutionality of publicly funded single-sex schools, no federal court has affirmed that single-sex schools are per se constitutionally impermissible.[13]

Despite the potential challenges, single-sex schools are beneficial in that they serve as a prospective remedy for disadvantaged students.[14] Several schools in the nation, such as the Urban Prep Academies in Chicago, aim to improve the educational opportunities available to the urban male population.[15] The Urban Prep Academies have proven success and boasts a 100% college acceptance rate.[16]  While DCPS faces potential legal challenges, many hope that DCPS will find similar success as the Urban Prep Academies in Chicago.


[1] See Mayor Bower and Chancellor Henderson Announce “Empowering Males of Color,” District of Columbia Public Schools, http://dcps.dc.gov/multimedia/mayor-bowser-and-chancellor-henderson-announce-empowering-males-color (last visited Apr. 5, 2015).

[2] See Empowering Males of Color, District of Columbia Public Schools, http://dcps.dc.goc/emoc (last visited Apr. 5, 2015).

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] See Perry Stein, First-time Principal Will Lead D.C.’s First All-Male Public High School, The Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/first-time-principal-will-lead-dcs-first-all-male-public-high-school/2016/01/10/cb338742-b55e-11e5-a842-0feb51d1d124_story.html (last visited Apr. 5, 2015).

[6] See id.

[7] See U.S. Const. amend. XIV; see also 20 U.S.C.A. § 1681.

[8] See 20 U.S.C.A. § 1681.

[9] See 34 C.F.R. § 106.34; see also Department of Education, Guidelines Regarding Single Sex Classes and Schools (2002).

[10] See U.S. Const. amend. XIV; see also Mississippi Univ. for Women v. Hogan, 458 U.S. 717, 722 (1982).

[11] See Mississippi v. Hogan, 458 U.S. at 722 (indicating that policies that discriminates among applicants on the basis of gender is subject to scrutiny under the Equal Protection Cause of the Fourteenth Amendment) (citing Reed v. Reed, 404 U.S. 1,75 (1971)).

[12] See United States v. Virginia, 518 U.S. at 515, 555-57; see also Hogan, 458 U.S. at 724.

[13] See Virginia, 518 U.S. at 553 (1996) (affirming that single-sex education is permissible so long as states have an exceedingly persuasive justification); see also Hogan, 458 U.S. at 733; Vorchheimer v. Sch. Dist., 532 F.2d 880 (3d Cir. 1976).

[14] See Mark G. Yudof et al., Educational Policy and the Law 573 (1992) (noting that single-sex schools are a remedy for disadvantaged students or students of particular races).

[15] See About Urban Prep, Urban Prep Academies, http://www.urbanprep.org/about (last visited Apr. 5, 2016) (stating that the schools are a direct response to the urgent need to reverse abysmal gradation and college rates among boys in urban centers).

[16] See 100% College Acceptance, Urban Prep Academies, http://www.urbanprep.org/about/100-percent (last visited (Apr. 5, 2016).