Federal appeals court rules against Charter Day School in dress code case
WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that a Leland public charter school is required to comply with constitutional and federal law requirements that apply to traditional public schools in a case involving the school’s uniform policy requiring girls to wear skirts.
“I’m glad the girls at Charter Day School will now be able to learn, move, and play on equal terms as the boys in school,” said Bonnie Peltier, the mother of a former Charter Day School student who was a client in the case. “In 2022, girls shouldn’t have to decide between wearing something that makes them uncomfortable or missing classroom instruction time.”
The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of North Carolina, and the law firm Ellis & Winters LLP originally filed the challenge on behalf of three students, who were in kindergarten, fourth, and eighth grades when the case was filed.
The parents of the students argued that the skirts requirement ”signaled that school administrators valued their education less than that of boys” and the dress code restricted their daughters from moving freely at recess, and made it more difficult for them to sit in certain positions.
According to a news release from the ACLU of North Carolina, the school argued that Title IX, the federal law prohibiting gender discrimination in publicly-funded schools, did not prohibit dress codes that impose different rules for boys and girls.
The Fourth Circuit ruled that the school is subject to the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection, and that the dress code violated that guarantee.
The Court also recognized that Title IX applies to dress codes that draw distinctions based on sex, and remanded to the district court to assess whether the skirts requirement had excluded the plaintiffs from educational benefits or opportunities or otherwise discriminated against them based on sex under that federal statute.
“Nothing in the Equal Protection Clause prevents public schools from teaching universal values of respect and kindness,” wrote Judge Barbara Keenan of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. “But those values are never advanced by the discriminatory treatment of girls in a public school.”
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