DALLAS — Those who took umbrage at Rick Santorum’s comments about whether women are fit to serve on the front lines of combat might be appalled at the “Red Tail” controversy here.
This week, 5,000 fifth-grade boys were taken on a field trip to see the new movie at theaters, while fifth-grade girls remained at school to
watch a movie about a spelling bee – if they were lucky.
Top officials with the Dallas Independent School District, who knew about and signed off on the plan, said there wasn’t enough money to send all students to the movie, which depicts Tuskegee Airmen, a group of black male pilots in World War II.
So the district paid about $57,000 to send boys on the field trip while girls remained at school. On some campuses, girls watched recordings of “Akeelah and the Bee.”
The Dallas district, which is governed by a board of trustees and operated on a daily basis by an interim superintendent, has made no apologies for the disparate treatment of students. The rationale, they told the Dallas Morning News, was that they thought boys would enjoy the combat movie more than the girls.
The district, which is in the grips of a funding crisis triggered by draconian education cuts by Texas legislators, paid for the field trip with federal Title I money, which is designated for educating low-income students.
Outside groups are now questioning whether the field trip violated Title IX, which prohibits schools that get federal money from gender-based discrimination.
The American Association of University Women told the Dallas Morning News that the field trip was a case of “separate but unequal,’’ and other outside experts agreed.
The irony, which was apparently lost on Dallas school officials, is that racial segregation was formally abolished in the military by President Harry S. Truman in 1948. But it wasn’t until the 1970s that the military opened pilot training for women.
This year, while presidential candidates are debating women’s fitness for combat on the campaign trail, Dallas school girls aren’t just being shut out of the future. They’ve been denied the same opportunity as boys to learn about the past.
That’s a mighty tough lesson at any age.
Lori Stahl is a Texas journalist who writes about politics. Follow her on Twitter at @LoriStahl.