A federal judge has struck down part of a North Carolina charter school's uniform policy, ruling that requiring girls to wear skirts to school is unconstitutional. In court documents made public by the North Carolina chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the judge concluded that Charter Day School's skirt requirement violated the Constitution's equal protection clause as it "treats girls differently than boys by not allowing them to wear pants."
"The skirts requirement causes the girls to suffer a burden the boys do not, simply because they are female," U.S. District Judge Malcolm Harris wrote in his ruling. "Under the facts of this specific case, the court finds that the skirts requirement of the uniform policy ... as written and enforced, violates the Equal Protection Clause."
According to court documents, the school's uniform policy includes something referred to as "the skirts requirement," which states that all female students must wear "skirts, skorts, or jumpers." Male students, however, are entitled to wear shorts and pants. According to Harris, plaintiffs involved in the case didn't object to the school enforcing a uniform policy, but rather to the gender-based skirts requirement.
"They argue the skirts requirement forces them to wear clothing that is less warm and comfortable than the pants their male classmates are permitted to wear and, more importantly, restricts plaintiffs' physical activity, distracts from their learning, and limits their educational opportunities," the judge summarized in his ruling.
According to Harris' ruling, the Charter Day School officials had argued in court that the skirt requirement within the uniform policy was based on the school's "traditional values approach" to education. They'd claimed that while the sex-differentiated requirements work together to establish mutual respect between the male and female students, the skirts requirement specifically helped students to "act more appropriately" toward members of the opposite sex.
What's more, when the parent of one of the students involved in the lawsuit questioned school officials about the skirts requirement in 2015, she was told the uniform policy was an effort to "preserve chivalry and respect among young women and men," The Washington Post reported. According to the paper, Baker Mitchell, the founder of the Roger Bacon Academy, which runs Charter Day School, reportedly told the parent it was important to foster a learning environment that "embodied traditional values" so as to avoid things such as "teen pregnancies" and "casual sex."
For the moment, it's unclear what the school will do in light of Harris' ruling. In a statement to The Washington Post, Mitchell said "the Charter Day School Board is analyzing the opinion and will be meeting with counsel in the very near future to discuss their options moving forward."
The ACLU celebrated the ruling, claiming it "vindicates" the young girls behind the lawsuit. "This policy reflected antiquated stereotypes, intentionally sending the message that girls are not equal to boys," the nonprofit organization said in a tweeted statement. "Discriminatory stereotypes risk following students throughout their lives and have no place in our public schools."