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Judge says North Carolina charter school can't force girls to wear skirts

March 29, 2019
The requirement at Charter Day School in Leland, N.C., is unconstitutional sex discrimination, the judge says.

A North Carolina charter school engaged in unconstitutional sex discrimination by requiring girls to wear skirts, a federal judge has ruled.

The Associated Press reports that U.S. District Judge Malcolm Howard ruled in a lawsuit that Charter Day School in Leland, N.C., can’t enforce the skirts-only rule as part of its dress code.

Girls are clearly treated differently than boys at the school, Howard ruled. That’s a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection requirements.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued the school in 2016 on behalf of the guardians of three girls attending the K-8 school. The guardians contended that the dress code results in girls being colder in the winter and “forces them to pay constant attention to the positioning of their legs during class, distracting them from learning, and has led them to avoid certain activities altogether, such as climbing or playing sports during recess, all for fear of exposing their undergarments and being reprimanded by teachers or teased by boys,” the judge said.

One of the mothers suing on behalf of their daughters says the judge’s decision means a girl’s comfort and freedom to move is on par with their male classmates.

“All I wanted was for my daughter and every other girl at school to have the option to wear pants so she could play outside, sit comfortably, and stay warm in the winter,” Bonnie Peltier says in an ACLU news release. “But it’s disappointing that it took a court order to force the school to accept the simple fact that, in 2019, girls should have the choice to wear pants.”

Howard ruled that Charter Day School’s leaders were acting under color of state law when they adopted a disciplinary code that included punishing children who didn’t wear the prescribed uniforms.

Violators of the code could receive suspensions or even expulsion, but since Charter Day opened in 2000, no child has been expelled for violating the dress code, the jiudge said.

Members of the school’s nonprofit board said its student uniform—all students must wear white or navy blue tops tucked into khaki or blue bottoms—is part of its traditional values approach to education that parents are aware of when they enroll their children. They have argued that changing any of the school’s requirements could jeopardize results that have included test scores higher than nearby traditional public schools.

But school leaders failed to provide “any facts showing specifically how the skirts requirement furthers this success,” Howard wrote.

About the Author

Mike Kennedy | Senior Editor

Mike Kennedy, senior editor, has written for AS&U on a wide range of educational issues since 1999.

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