A Berlin family complained after they found their two daughters, along with their female classmates, were being sent to different sports classes than the boys.
While this is normal practice in many German schools, the family felt it was teaching their girls the wrong lesson.
The family, residents of Berlin's south-western Zehlendorf district, took the matter to court claiming that children in state-run schools have the right to mixed education if they want it.
But the city's administrative court ruled against the complaint. “Parents cannot demand that their children are constantly taught in a co-educational [environment],” it said in a ruling released on Tuesday.
“That's not our point at all,” the girls' mother told Berlin's Der Tagesspiegel newspaper. “For us it's more that children should not be excluded from groups just because of their sex,” she said, adding that the practice only confirmed cliched gender roles.
One female sports teacher, for instance, had told her seven-year-old youngest daughter that boys could throw better and that was why girls didn't play with them, the mother said. The family is now planning to appeal the decision.
Under local law, Berlin schools are allowed to choose for themselves whether they separate boys and girls for physical education classes – usually from the age of ten onwards.
The main argument for separate sports is based on the differences between boys' and girls' physical development and the resulting difference in performance, wrote the paper.
Also, during puberty, any activity involving physical contact could be over-sexualised, experts agree, and single-sex classes help to avoid this.
Yet educational researchers still disagree on whether separate or mixed sports lessons are better to encourage equal chances for boys and girls, the paper said.