Charter school parents speak out about dress code lawsuit
LELAND, NC (WWAY) — The American Civil Liberties Union and three parents filed a lawsuit against Charter Day School in Leland on behalf of three Brunswick County students.
The lawsuit is against a section of the K-8 public charter school’s dress code that requires female students to wear skirts to school and prohibits them from wearing pants or shorts.
In the lawsuit, three students, ages 5, 10, and 14, say that 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.
“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,” Parent Bonnie Peltier said. “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 As a parent, nothing is more important to me than my children, and I don’t want an outdated policy to get in the way of their education.”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 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 state 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“Although many girls may not mind wearing skirts, no one should be forced to do so based on outdated sex stereotypes,” ACLU Attorney Galen Sherwin said. “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.”
Charter Day School’s uniform policy requires girls to wear skirts, skorts, or jumpers that must be “knee-length or longer.” Violating the uniform policy can result in discipline or even expulsion, according to the school’s handbook.
In an email cited in the lawsuit, Baker A. Mitchell, Jr., the school’s founder and primary author of the uniform policy, says that the requirement that girls wear skirts was based, among other things, on “chivalry” and “traditional values.” Mitchell’s email cites the 1999 Columbine school shootings as motivating the school “to preserve chivalry and respect among young women and men.”
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.
Attorney George Fletcher, who represents the Charter Day School in Leland, posted a response to the lawsuit on the school’s website. The letter describes the legal standing of CDS using these highlights:
- Ms. Peltier did not attempt to resolve the matter by filing a grievance per CDS’ grievance policy.
- “Thus, we view your allegation regarding a possible Title IX violation as meritless under the law as it has existed for over three decades.”
- “As the uniform policy currently stands, CDS complies with North Carolina General Statute 115C-218.55.”
- “CDS’s uniform policy does not violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution.”
- “CDS’s uniform policy, as is, does not violate any Supreme Court or Fourth Circuit precedents.”
- “CDS’s dress code is not discriminatory and is clearly written out such that parents and students know what is permitted.”
- Plaintiffs “made a conscious decision to apply for admission.”