Dress and Skirts

Appeals court ruling mixed on NC school’s dress code requiring skirts for girls

LELAND, N.C. (WECT) – A federal appeals court ruled Monday that a Leland charter school’s dress code that requires girls to wear skirts is discriminatory and violates Title IX.

A three-judge panel for the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va. overturned a lower court ruling that school dress codes are not covered by Title IX, the federal law banning sex discrimination in schools.

In 2016, the parents of three students ages 5, 10, and 14 and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit against Charter Day School (CDS) and the Roger Bacon Academy, which operates Charter Day School and several other charter schools in southeastern North Carolina, challenging the skirt requirement.

The charter 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.

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.

“I wanted my daughter and all the other girls at her school to know that they can 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. “I’m relieved that a federal court of appeals recognized that forcing girls to wear skirts or miss classroom instruction time can be a form of sex discrimination.”

School officials previously maintained that the skirt requirement furthered “chivalry” which meant “a code of conduct where women are . . . regarded as a fragile vessel that men are supposed to take care of and honor.”

“Dress codes that enforce different rules based on old-fashioned conventions of how girls should dress, look, and behave while intentionally signaling that girls are not equal to boys perpetuate gender stereotypes and should have no place in our public schools,” said Galen Sherwin, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project.

Circuit Court Judge Barbara Milano Kennan, in an opinion, stated that CDS’ viewpoint on skirts was “outmoded and illogical.”

“No, this is not 1821 or 1921. It’s 2021. Women serve in combat units of our armed forces. Women walk in space and contribute their talents at the International Space Station. Women serve on our country’s Supreme Court, in Congress, and, today, a woman is vice president of the United States. Yet, girls in certain public schools in North Carolina are required to wear skirts to comply with the outmoded and illogical viewpoint that courteous behavior on the part of both sexes cannot be achieved unless girls wear clothing that reinforces sex stereotypes and signals that girls are not as capable and resilient as boys,” Kennan stated.

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