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Skirting the Issue: ACLU sues charter school over girls' uniforms ACLU of North Carolina

Skirting the Issue: ACLU sues charter school over girls' uniforms

Civil rights group says the dress code at Charter Day School in Leland, N.C., discriminates against girls because it doesn't allow them to wear pants.

A North Carolina charter school is illegally discriminating against female students, the American Civil Liberties Union contends, because the school's dress code prohibits girls from wearing pants.

The ACLU has filed a lawsuit on behalf of three female studentsages 5, 10 and 14who object to a dress code at Charter Day School, a public charter school in Leland, N.C., that requires girls to wear skirts to school and prohibits them from wearing pants or shorts.

The lawsuit contends that wearing skirts restricts girls' movements, inhibits them in school situations such as playing at recess or sitting on the floor, and causes them to feel uncomfortably cold in the winter.

The ACLU asserts that the requirement for girls to wear skirts is based on stereotypes that constitute unlawful sex discrimination. The civil rights group is seeking a court order blocking Charter Day School from enforcing its ban on girls wearing pants or shorts.

“Although many girls may not mind wearing skirts, no one should be forced to do so based on outdated sex stereotypes,” says Galen Sherwin, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project. “Requiring all girls to wear skirts reinforces the false notion that girls are less physically active, and should behave in a more typically feminine manner, than boys.”

Charter Day School’s uniform policy requires girls to wear skirts, skorts, or jumpers that must be “knee-length or longer.” Violating the uniform policy may result in discipline or even expulsion, according to the school’s handbook.

Keely Burks, an eighth-grade student at Charter Day, started a petition drive to get the uniform policy changed.

In a blog post on the ACLU's web page, she said it was unfair that boys are allowed to wear pants or shorts every day, but girls could not.

"Personally, I hate wearing skirts," Keely writes. "Even with tights and leggings, skirts are cold to wear in the winter, and they’re not as comfortable as shorts in the summer. I love playing outside, especially soccer and gymnastics. When we go outside for recess, the boys in my class will sometimes play soccer or do flips and cartwheels. But I feel like I can’t because I’m wearing a skirt."

In an email to a parent who questioned the school's uniform policy, Baker A. Mitchell, Jr., the founder of the Charter Day School, said the dress code was part of an effort to "preserve chivalry and respect among young women and men in this school of choice.”

"The uniform policy seeks to establish an environment in which our young men and women treat one another with mutual respect," Mitchell's email says.

But in her blog post, Keely argues that the thinking behind the uniform policy is antiquated.

"In the year 2016, I don’t think anyone should have a problem with young women wearing pants," the eighth-grader says. "There are so many professional women—businesswomen, doctors, and world leaders—who wear pants every day. If I had the choice, I would wear pants or shorts to school every day."

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