Mother who questioned Leland charter school’s dress code feels vindicated by Supreme Court ruling

Bonnie Peltier, the mother of a former Charter Day School student, first questioned the dress code in 2015, and filed suit a year later.
Published: Jun. 26, 2023 at 11:57 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 27, 2023 at 11:23 AM EDT
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LELAND, N.C. (WECT) - The United States Supreme Court ruled on Monday that it will not hear an appeal from Charter Day School in Leland, which petitioned the court to reverse a federal appeals court decision that found the charter school’s dress code mandating girls wear skirts to school violated students’ constitutional rights.

Bonnie Peltier, the mother of a former Charter Day School student, first questioned the dress code in 2015 and filed suit a year later.

“I didn’t want [my daughter] to grow up thinking to be a girl you have to wear a dress or skirt and that women should have to be forced to wear dresses and skirts to school,” Peltier said.

When Peltier questioned why Charter Day School enforced this policy in the first place, she says school founder Baker Mitchell said girls were “fragile vessels who needed to be protected and that it promoted chivalry from the male students,” according to Peltier and court documents.

ACLU of North Carolina attorney Sam Davis said private charter schools that operate with public dollars are subject to the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection, and Charter Day School’s dress code violated that guarantee.

“If there’s a right to receive public funding, there’s also a responsibility to follow the law,” said Davis. “They want to have their cake and eat it too, and say, look, we’re entitled to all this public funding, but we’re going to dictate that anyone who wants to be a part of the school has to adhere to our retrograde views about gender and our philosophy about who is valued and who has the right to be here.”

Davis started representing Peltier last year after the case was appealed to the Supreme Court. The ACLU and ACLU of North Carolina represented them when they first brought the case to a court, making the Supreme Court’s affirmation of the appeals court’s decision a win for all of them.

“I think what this case says is no, you don’t get to have it both ways,” said Davis. “I think it sends a really important signal that boys and girls can learn and learn equally without having to adhere to someone’s idea of what boys and girls should look like, or how they should act.”

Mitchell, the president and CEO of The Roger Bacon Academy, which manages the group of Classical Charter Schools of America to which Charter Day School belongs, said in a statement that he is “disappointed” by the ruling, but that the school will comply with the appeals court decision just as they did last year by changing the school’s dress code.

“We want to be clear that CCS-A also intends to stay true to the unique classical academic program that has served our students well for the past 24 years,” Mitchell’s statement said. “This means we will resist unwarranted restrictions and interference that goes beyond the scope of the Fourth Circuit’s ruling and could saddle CCS-A with problems similar to those that have crippled so many traditional public schools across the country. The parents of our 2,700 students expect and deserve no less.”