Three students at a Brunswick County charter school are challenging the school’s policy requiring that girls wear skirts, the ACLU of N.C. said today.
The ACLU and Raleigh firm Ellis & Winters LLP filed the case in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of N.C. Monday on behalf of three students—ages 5, 10 and 14—at Charter Day School in Leland, which is just north of Wilmington.
In the suit, the ACLU explains that the K-8 public charter school, which serves more than 900 students, also bans girls from wearing shorts or pants under its dress code. Violating the policy can result in “discipline or even expulsion,” the ACLU said.
In the lawsuit, which you can read here, the girls say “wearing skirts restricts their movement, inhibits them in school situations such as playing at recess or sitting on the floor, and causes them to feel uncomfortably cold in the winter.”
From the ACLU statement:
“There are a lot of situations – whether it’s playing outside, sitting on the floor, or trying to stay warm in the cold – where wearing a skirt makes my daughter uncomfortable and distracts her from learning,” said Bonnie Peltier, the mother of a 5-year-old Charter Day School student who is a client in the case. “I’m not against a dress code, but it’s 2016. Girls should be allowed to wear pants as part of the dress code. As a parent, nothing is more important to me than my children, and I don’t want an outdated policy to get in the way of their education.”
The lawsuit also cites an alleged email from Baker Mitchell Jr., the school’s founder and architect of its dress code, in which Mitchell cites the 1999 school shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado as motivation for the skirt policy, arguing that the school seeks to “preserve chivalry and respect among young women and men.”
From that alleged email:
As you may recall, the tumult of the 1990’s was capped off by the Columbine shootings April 20, 1999 in which two students killed thirteen classmates and injured twenty-four others – fourteen of whom were female. The Trustees, parents, and other community supporters were determined to preserve chivalry and respect among young women and men in this school of choice. For example, young men were to hold the door open for the young ladies and to carry an umbrella, should it be needed. Ma’am and sir were to be the preferred forms of address. There was felt to be a need to restore, and then preserve, traditional regard for peers.
According to the ACLU:
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina on behalf of Peltier’s daughter and two other female students, argues that the requirement for girls to wear skirts is based on stereotypes that constitute unlawful sex discrimination. It names Charter Day School, Inc., members of the school’s board of trustees, and the Roger Bacon Academy, Inc., as defendants. The case is being brought under Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in schools that accept federal funds, and the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, as well as a similar provision in the North Carolina Constitution. It asks the court to block Charter Day School from enforcing its ban on girls wearing pants or shorts.
“Although many girls may not mind wearing skirts, no one should be forced to do so based on outdated sex stereotypes,” said Galen Sherwin, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project. “Requiring all girls to wear skirts reinforces the false notion that girls are less physically active, and should behave in a more typically feminine manner, than boys. Our clients correctly believe that they are equal to boys and should be treated equally by their school—and luckily, the law backs them up.”
Charter Day School is a public school according to state law and the North Carolina Board of Education. It is prohibited from discriminating against students on the basis of gender, and, because it also receives federal financial assistance, is subject to Title IX’s prohibition of sex discrimination.