Federal court: North Carolina school can’t require girls to wear skirts

RICHMOND, Virginia. – A North Carolina charter school violated the constitutional rights of female students by forcing them to wear skirts, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.

A majority of the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the dress code at Charter Day School in Leland violated the equal protection rights of female students, siding with parents who had argued that the requirement He put his daughters at a disadvantage.

Public schools were long barred from enacting such mandates, but the court’s majority concluded that public charter schools, since they receive public funds, are also “state actors” and therefore subject to the clause. equal protection of the Constitution.

The court also ordered further hearings in lower federal court on claims that the policy violated federal Title IX anti-discrimination law.

Tuesday’s ruling came after an en banc hearing before 16 4th Circuit judges. It reverses an earlier decision by a three-judge panel of the same court that found the public charter school was not subject to the equal protection clause because it did not meet all the criteria to be considered a state actor.

The plaintiffs, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, applauded the decision.

“I am glad that the girls at Charter Day School can now learn, move and play on an equal basis with boys at school,” said Bonnie Peltier, a plaintiff whose daughter attended the school, in a statement. “In 2022, girls shouldn’t have to decide between wearing something that makes them feel uncomfortable or missing out on instructional time in the classroom.”

See also  Governor Mike DeWine and rival Jim Renacci discuss jobs, education and COVID policy during editorial board meeting

Galen Sherwin, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, said in a statement that the ruling could have an impact beyond North Carolina.

“Today’s decision is a victory for North Carolina students attending public charter schools, and it should put charter schools across the country on notice that they must follow the same rules as traditional public schools when it comes to ensuring equal educational opportunity for students,” Sherwin said. .

The students who defied the policy were in grades kindergarten through eight. They argued that male students were being treated unequally, noting that the dress code limited their ability to participate in recess and made them uncomfortable in some situations, such as emergency drills where they had to crawl on the floor.

In considering the “state actor” question, the court’s majority opinion, written by Superior Circuit Judge Barbara Milano Keenan, noted that the charter school receives state funding, is subject to state educational requirements, and is referred to as a “charter school.” public”. in state statutes. Thus, Keenan wrote that “the state has delegated to charter school operators like CDS part of the state’s constitutional duty” to provide free education.

Charter Day School had argued that it was simply a private entity fulfilling a contract with the state.

The school’s founder, Baker Mitchell, argued that the dress code was intended to promote the “chivalry” of male students and respect for female students, according to court documents. Mitchell, according to the ruling, described chivalry as “a code of conduct in which women are treated, considered a fragile vessel that men are supposed to care for and honor.” He said the requirement was also intended to ensure that girls were treated “courteously and more gently than boys,” according to court documents.

See also  Video: Mississippi Equal Pay Bills

Keenan wrote that the logic of the school was based on an unacceptable gender stereotype.

The school “has imposed the skirt requirement for the express purpose of telegraphing to boys that girls are ‘fragile’, require child protection, and deserve treatment differently than male students, stereotypes with potentially devastating consequences for children. girls,” he wrote.

Aaron Streett, an attorney representing Charter Day School, released a statement saying the legal team disagrees with the majority opinion and pointed to issues raised in a dissent. He said the school is evaluating the next steps in the legal case.

“As the six dissenting justices powerfully explain, the majority opinion contradicts Supreme Court precedent on state action, splits with all other circuits to consider the issue, and limits parents’ ability to choose the best education for their children. their children,” the statement said.