PELLSTON, Mich. (AP) _ A school that operates same-sex classes out of fear that girls don't participate enough in coed settings is continuing the practice despite a government ruling saying its discriminatory.

Pellston began placing middle school boys and girls in separate classrooms in 1997, and that same year the National Organization of Women filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education. The group said the classes violate Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded programs.

The department ruled last year that Pellston's classes amount to illegal discrimination. But it later said it was considering whether there was a legal basis to interpret Title IX in such a way that would permit single-sex classrooms under certain circumstances.

Despite the scrutiny, Pellston officials aren't planning any changes, saying the practice enjoys widespread support from the community. They plan to expand same-sex classes next year to include all core-curriculum classes in sixth and seventh grades.

``My daughter said she felt and noticed a difference between the gender-based classes and the mixed classes,'' parent Eileen Mikus said. ``Girls in the gender-based classes felt more free to ask questions, not be as worried.''

Same-sex settings are currently offered in such classes as math, science, social studies and language arts. School officials note that they keep the classes voluntary, meaning each subject is also taught in a coed setting.

Elizabeth Homer, chairwoman of NOW's education task force, said rising math scores among female students in mixed-sex classes last year prove that improvement can be achieved in coed classes.

School board President Gerald Mallory said he believes federal agencies have relaxed their scrutiny of the program as school districts across the country develop similar policies, and a growing number of people tout the success of single-sex classes.

Mallory said educational studies indicate middle-school girls tend to not participate, raise their hands, or be called on by teachers as much as boys in middle-school math and science classes. Boys tend to be more outspoken at that age and ``overpower'' the girls, he said.

Education Department spokesman Rodger Murphy said the government is still evaluating information gathered over the last two years regarding classes in Pellston, a town of about 600 in the northern part of Michigan's Lower Peninsula.

``We haven't made any decisions as to whether they are in any compliance problems at this point,'' he said. ``It would be inappropriate for us to ask them to change anything while that assessment is still going on.''

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On the Net:

Department of Education: http://www.ed.gov/

National Organization of Women: http://www.now.org