A judge ruled that a North Carolina school’s dress code prohibiting girls from wearing pants is unconstitutional because it violates the equal protection clause, after three girls, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, sued the Charter Day School. Judge Malcolm J. Howard wrote that the, “skirts requirement causes the girls to suffer a burden the boys do not, simply because they are female.”

Judge Howard wrote in his decision that, “The plaintiffs in this case have shown that the girls are subject to a specific clothing requirement that renders them unable to play as freely during recess, requires them to sit in an uncomfortable manner in the classroom, causes them to be overly focused on how they are sitting, distracts them from learning, and subjects them to cold temperatures on their legs and/or uncomfortable layers of leggings under their knee-length skirts in order to stay warm, especially moving outside between classrooms at the school. Defendants have offered no evidence of any comparable burden on boys.”

Galen Sherwin, senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, stated that the “ruling vindicates our young clients, who argued that the dress code policy was both outdated and discriminatory.” “This policy reflected antiquated gender stereotypes, intentionally sending the message that girls are not equal to boys. Such discriminatory stereotypes risk following students throughout their lives, and should have no place in our public schools.”

Baker Mitchell, the founder of the company overseeing the school, stated that the “uniform policy seeks to establish an environment in which our young men and women treat one another with mutual respect.” The school claimed the dress code was established to promote “traditional values,” “instill discipline,” and “promote a sense of pride and of team spirit.” However, Judge Howard wrote that there is “no connection” between these goals and the requirement that girls must wear skirts.

Bonnie Peltier, a mother of one of the students involved in the case, said that “all [she] wanted was for [her] daughter and every other girl at school to have the option to wear pants so she could play outside, sit comfortably, and stay warm in the winter. We’re happy the court agrees, but it’s disappointing that it took a court order to force the school to accept the simple fact that, in 2019, girls should have the choice to wear pants.”

In 2016, the ACLU, on behalf of three girls aged 5, 10, and 14, filed a lawsuit against the school, arguing that the skirt requirement was distracting, inhibiting, and uncomfortable for young girls. The girls were limited in their physical movement, could not sit in the same positions as the boys, and could not stay as warm in skirts as they could if they were allowed to wear pants.

Keely Burks, a plaintiff in the case, initially created a petition to “ask [her] school to change its policy that says girls have to wear skirts to school or risk being punished,” according to a post Burks wrote. She wrote that “[her] friends and [her] got more than 100 signatures on our petition, but it was taken from [them] by a teacher and [they] never got it back. Now [they] are turning to the ACLU for help.”

Burks wrote that “personally, I hate wearing skirts. Even with tights and leggings, skirts are cold to wear in the winter; and they’re not as comfortable as shorts in the summer.” She argued that if she could choose, then she would wear pants every day.

The decision reached this week will now allow girls at the school to have a choice in their attire and focus on their academics.

Media Resources: Buzzfeed News 3/30/19; New York Times 3/31/19; ACLU 3/29/19

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