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When are boys and girls allowed to be split up in school? The government has a 36-page answer.

The Department of Education on Monday released a set of guidelines that is meant to clarify when K-12 schools are allowed to separate boys and girls into separate classrooms, without running afoul of civil rights laws.

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 required the department to issue rules about when boys and girls can be split up, and when they cannot. The department's 36-page document was released after "numerous inquiries" about the department's policies.

Screen Shot 2014-12-01 at 3.58.34 PM New guidance from the Department of Education describes when boys and girls can be split up, and when they can't.
Image: AP Photo, The Winchester Star, Jeff Taylor

"As we receive increasing inquiries about single-sex offerings we want to be clear what federal law allows: Protect civil rights and promote achievement," said Catherine Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights at the department.

The guidelines offer several examples of when teachers can split students up by sex. For instance, students can be split up if they express an interest in taking higher-level classes, and those classes are aimed at boosting their college preparedness.

Classes formed to help one sex or the other, when that one sex is shown to be lagging academically, are allowed. Gathering boys and girls together in separate classes is also acceptable to discuss issues such as dating violence.

But splitting up students by sex for no specific educational purpose is not allowed, and the guidance said single-sex lunch and recess periods that are designed for the convenience of the teachers are not permitted.

The guidance also noted that schools are prohibited from automatically matching teachers and students of the same sex.

"A school may not, for example, assign a male teacher, on the basis of his sex, to teach an all-boys class because the school thinks male students will prefer, respond better to, or learn more effectively from, a man," it said.

Read the Department of Education's guidance here:

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