Federal court rules Leland charter school’s dress code violates Constitution

Updated: Mar. 29, 2019 at 12:23 PM EDT
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LELAND, NC (WECT) - A federal court ruled Thursday that Charter Day School’s dress policy requiring female students to wear skirts to school violates the Constitution.

In 2016, the parents of three students ages 5, 10, and 14 and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a filed a lawsuit against the school.

The lawsuit stated that wearing skirts restricts the students’ movement, inhibits them in school situations such as playing at recess or sitting on the floor, and causes them to feel uncomfortably cold during winter.

U.S. District Judge Malcolm Howard ruled that the policy violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution.

“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," said Bonnie Peltier, the mother of a former Charter Day School student who is a client in the case. “We’re happy the court agrees, 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.”

Charter Day School's uniform policy requires girls to wear skirts, skorts, or jumpers that are "knee-length or longer." Violating the policy can result in discipline or even expulsion.

In an email cited in the lawsuit, Baker A. Mitchell, Jr., the school’s founder and primary author of the uniform policy, says that the requirement that girls wear skirts was based, among other things, on “chivalry” and “traditional values.” Mitchell’s email cites the 1999 Columbine school shootings as motivating the school “to preserve chivalry and respect among young women and men.”

The parties in the case were unable to reach a settlement after attending a court-hosted settlement conference.

In her Sept. 2017 order on the plaintiffs’ motion for appropriate relief, U.S. Magistrate Judge Kimberly A. Swank found misconduct by the defendants’ counsel and ordered that portions of a January 2017 psychological report authored by the defendants’ experts be stricken from the record, specifically, any and all portions which referenced or relied upon classroom observations of the minor plaintiffs or other students of Charter Day School or teacher interviews conducted by defendants’ experts.

That counsel withdrew from the case.

The defendants were also barred “from offering, eliciting, presenting or otherwise relying upon any testimony, statements or opinions of their experts concerning their classroom observations of the minor plaintiffs or the teacher interviews.”

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