A federal judge in North Carolina last week struck down a K-8 public charter school uniform policy, saying it put an unequal and unnecessary burden on girls by requiring they wear skirts. U.S. District Judge Malcolm Howard’s March 28 ruling against Charter Day School in Leland, N.C., ends a three-year legal battle initiated by the parents of three female students.
The parents filed a federal lawsuit against school administrators in March 2016, claiming the policy—which allowed boys to wear pants or shorts but required girls wear skirts, jumpers, or skorts—meant their daughters avoided climbing or playing sports during recess and had to “pay constant attention to the positioning of their legs during class, distracting them from learning,” the ruling stated.
The school defended the policy, which allowed girls to wear leggings or tights under their skirts, contending its uniform advanced the school’s traditional values by encouraging chivalry and mutual respect.
Howard disagreed, saying that the dress code violated the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution and Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded education programs. As a government-funded charter school, Charter Day must follow those federal guidelines or risk losing its funding.
“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,” mother Bonnie Peltier, one of the plaintiffs in the case, said in a statement provided by the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented the families. “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.”
The school has not said if it will appeal the ruling. “The Charter Day School Board is analyzing the opinion and will be meeting with counsel in the very near future to discuss their options moving forward,” Baker Mitchell, founder of the Roger Bacon Academy, which runs the charter school, told The Washington Post. —Kiley Crossland