A North Carolina School Made Girls Wear Skirts. A Court Ruled It Unconstitutional
At a North Carolina charter school, all students follow the same curriculum. But their gender-specific uniform requirements — pants for boys, and skirts, skorts or jumpers for girls — separate them in a way a federal court on Tuesday deemed unconstitutional.
The dress code at Charter Day School in Leland, N.C., no longer can be enforced, Senior Circuit Judge Barbara Milano Keenan wrote in a majority opinion. The school founder’s claim that the uniform rules promote chivalry “based on the view that girls are ‘fragile vessels’ deserving of ‘gentle’ treatment by boys” was determined to be discriminating against female students in the 10-to-6 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit.
“It is difficult to imagine a clearer example of a rationale based on impermissible gender stereotypes,” Keenan wrote in the opinion.
“By implementing the skirts requirement based on blatant gender stereotypes about the ‘proper place’ for girls and women in society, [the school] has acted in clear violation of the Equal Protection Clause,” she continued.
The decision followed a seven-year effort to end the school’s skirt requirement for female students.
In 2015, Keely Burks, then a 14-year-old eighth-grader at Charter Day School, launched a petition with her friends to change the uniform policy. They ultimately collected over 100 signatures, she wrote in 2016, but the document “was taken from us by a teacher and we never got it back.”
Around the same time, a kindergartner’s mother inquired about the requirement, which she considered to be discriminatory. The school’s founder, Baker A. Mitchell, responded to her email by explaining that Charter Day School was “determined to preserve chivalry and respect among young women and men” and that there was a need to “restore, and then preserve, traditional regard for peers,” according to court documents.
Burks, the kindergartner and a fourth-grader later became plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed in 2016 by the American Civil Liberties Union. They alleged in the suit that being forced to wear skirts prevented them from playing freely, moving actively and feeling as if their comfort was valued as much as that of male students.
“I hope that by challenging my school’s policy, I can help other girls who want to go to school without being stereotyped or who just want to play outside or sit in class without feeling uncomfortable,” Burks wrote at the time.