The Dallas Independent School District could be facing federal violations for sex discrimination and improper use of federal funds for a World War II lesson plan that separated fifth-grade boys from girls.
In a lesson that touched upon the role of African-American pilots during the war, 5,000 fifth-grade boys went to the movies to see Red Tails, a film about the Tuskegee Airmen.
Their female classmates stayed behind in class to watch Akeelah and the Bee, a film about a Los Angeles girl competing in a spelling competition.
The district's intent was simply to give the boys an inside look at a part of World War II history that has often been overlooked. Our focus at the time was on taking advantage of a special opportunity for students, said district spokesman Jon Dahlander in a statement. The Dallas Independent School District is intent on providing many and varied opportunities to both boys and girls, though, with 157,000 students, they may not always be the exact same opportunities at any given time.
In what could be a misappropriation of federal dollars, the district spent $32,000 in Title I funds to send the fifth-grade boys to see the film in theaters, the Dallas Morning News reported.
The school district has until Monday to inform the Texas Education Agency, the state's education authority, how it funded the field trip.
Title I money is designed to help economically disadvantaged students in elementary and secondary schools.
TEA spokeswoman Suzanne Marchman said by the start of next week the agency will know for sure if those funds were used.
Until they tell us where the funds came from, we can't know if the funds were misspent, Marchman said.
If the district, which enrolled 156,784 students in the past academic year, did use Title I funds, then the TEA will have to determine if the district committed an honest mistake, or if district officials did so knowing the funds were being misused, Marchman said.
In either case, the school district will have to reimburse the state, and could potentially have a monitor to educate district officials and oversee how it uses federal funds, Marchman said.
And that's not all.
The U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights is evaluating two complaints levied against the school district in what could be a violation of Title IX, a provision banning sex discrimination, said a department spokesperson.
If found guilty of violating Title IX, the district could have federal monies withheld, and could face legal fees and fines if taken to court.
In Texas, the state Board of Education comes up with the state's overall curriculum, but it falls upon the school districts to tailor their lesson plans to match the board's goals, Marchman said.
The intense reaction to the district's decision on this film has taught us important lessons about decision-making and communication and the public's rightful and respected concerns regarding equality, Dahlander said. As a district, we will be reviewing our policies and practices to ensure that the same or equal opportunities are offered to all students.
Dahlander said he is unaware of the district facing any violations under Title I or IX at this time. Dallas has opened an all-boys and an all-girls school in the past two years.