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NC school skirt policy for girls overturned in court

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In a charter school in North Carolina, all students follow the same curriculum. But their gendered uniform requirements, pants for boys, and skirts, skorts or sweaters for girls, separate them in a way a federal court ruled Tuesday unconstitutional.

The dress code at Charter Day School in Leland, North Carolina, can no longer be enforced, senior circuit judge Barbara Milano Keenan wrote. in a majority opinion. The school’s founders say uniform rules promote chivalry based on the idea that girls are fragile vessels deserving of gentle treatment by boys was found to discriminate against female students in the 10 v. 6 of the United States Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit.

It’s hard to imagine a clearer example of justification based on impermissible gender stereotypes, Keenan wrote in the opinion.

By implementing the requirement of skirts based on blatant gender stereotypes about the proper place of girls and women in society, [the school] acted in flagrant violation of the equal protection clause, she continued.

The decision follows a seven-year effort to end the schools’ skirt requirement for female students.

In 2015 Keely Burks, then a 14-year-old eighth grader at Charter Day School, started a petition with her friends to change the uniform policy. They eventually collected over 100 signatures, she wrote in 2016but the document was taken from us by a teacher and we never got it back.

Around the same time, a kindergarten mother inquired about this requirement, which she considered discriminatory. The school’s founder, Baker A. Mitchell, responded to her email, explaining that the Charter Day School was committed to preserving chivalry and respect between young women and men and that there was a need to restore, then to preserve, the traditional respect for peers, according to court documents.

Burks, the kindergartener and a fourth grader later became plaintiffs in a complaint filed in 2016 by the American Civil Liberties Union. They alleged in the lawsuit that being forced to wear skirts prevented them from playing freely, moving actively and feeling as if their comfort was valued as much as that of male students.

I hope that by challenging my school policy I can help other girls who want to go to school without being stereotyped or who just want to play outside or sit in class without feeling awkward , Burks wrote at the time.

A lengthy court battle ensued, in which decisions regarding the case were swapped between federal and state courts. consider whether the dress code violated the rights of female students.

No, it’s not 1821 or 1921. It’s 2021, Keenan, the judge, wrote last summer. Women serve in the combat units of our armed forces. Women walk in space and bring their talents to the International Space Station. Women sit on our nation’s Supreme Court, in Congress, and today a woman is Vice President of the United States.

To determine the constitutionality of the skirt requirements, the judges considered whether the charter school was a public entity. Charter Day School argued that it was a private entity and that the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause, which prohibits discrimination, did not apply.

But a majority of the federal appeals court ultimately disagreed. Because the charter school receives state funding, the judges wrote, it must follow the same laws and civil rights protections as public schools, which are prohibited from imposing discriminatory dress codes. or censoring student expression.

The ruling is one that has significant implications for other dress code cases, said Galen Sherwin, senior counsel for the ACLUs Womens Rights Project who represented the plaintiffs. Other states designate their charter schools as public schools in the same way as North Carolina, which means the courts’ ruling could apply to more charter school systems across the country.

What’s more, it was the first time a circuit court had recognized the harms of gender stereotypes … and the harmful role they play, Sherwin said. The decision rejected the argument, established in previous court cases, that because the Charter Days dress code also limited what boys could wear, it was not discriminatory.

In doing so, Sherwin said, the 4th Circuit has put in place an updated legal framework for judges deciding these types of cases: the dismissal of this [reasoning] is actually a really significant and important development in the law that could impact both students and workers.

Additionally, because the en banc decision involved all of the 4th Circuit judges, instead of a panel, the courts’ decision carries even more weight, Sherwin said. While the court settled whether the Charter Days dress code violated the 14th Amendment, a district court will revisit whether it also violates Title IX at a later date.

Aaron Streett, an attorney representing Charter Day School, told the Washington Post that the school is evaluating next steps, adding that court opinion limits parents’ ability to choose the best education for their children.

For plaintiffs in the lawsuit, the decision was celebrated even after some are graduates of the K-8 institution.

I am happy that the girls at Charter Day School can now learn, move and play on an equal footing with the boys at the school, said Bonnie Peltier, the mother of a former pupil involved in the case. A press release. In 2022, girls shouldn’t have to choose between wearing something that makes them feel uncomfortable or missing instruction time in class.

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