Education

Charter School Gets Sued Over Dress Code Preventing Girls From Wearing Pants

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A group of parents have filed a federal lawsuit against the Charter Day School in Leland, North Carolina because they say the school dress code discriminates against girls, according to Star News Online.

At the charter school, girls must wear jumper dresses, skirts, or “skorts” each day — with the exception of gym class and other activities where the school deems shorts to be appropriate — while boys can wear shorts or pants. Some of the parents complained that it’s unfair to tell girls to wear skirts even in colder weather, and argued that some girls like to wear more practical clothes during recess so that they can move around freely without their skirts flipping up.

“The Uniform Policy requiring girls to wear skirts, on its face, treats girls differently than boys and causes them to suffer a burden that boys do not suffer,” the parents’ lawsuit, which was filed by the ACLU, reads.

The lawsuit also references an email that the ACLU says appears to criticize women who don’t adhere to “traditional values.” The founder of the Roger Bacon Academy, which operates the charter school, wrote to one of the parents bringing the lawsuit that the dress code is an important way to “preserve chivalry and respect among young women and men in this school of choice.”

“For them to argue further that this is necessary for there to be a respectful climate at the school indicates that women who wear pants are not deserving of as much respect as women who wear skirts,” Chris Brook, the legal director for the ACLU-North Carolina, said in an interview with Star News Online.

Students have always resisted dress codes, but lately some of them have been openly protesting sexist policies that unfairly target female students. For example, middle school students have complained that their dress code policies suggest that girls’ and women’s bodies are responsible for “distracting” boys, reinforcing the idea that boys don’t have self-control and girls are responsible for boys’ actions toward them. A couple years ago, a New Jersey middle school banned girls from wearing strapless dresses to prom, claiming the dresses were “distracting” without explaining why. Even kindergartners aren’t spared from this approach. A kindergarten student in Georgia was forced to change her attire because the principal thought her skirt was too short.

Dress codes have also come under fire for going too far to police students’ gender expression. In response, students have been standing with their LGBT peers to promote LGBT pride and encourage trans students to dress as they see appropriate for their gender identity. The ACLU is involved in many of these cases.

The ACLU doesn’t always need to bring a lawsuit to bring about change. Sometimes the group simply sends a letter to the school district letting it know that it could be subject to a costly lawsuit. For example, an ACLU lawyer advised one school district in Fresno, California — which has different dress code rules for boys and girls — that it should change its policy because it may break a state law that protects students from gender discrimination.

School districts are also finding out that they can’t rely on their dress codes to argue that students wearing clothing with messages of LGBT pride are “disruptive” or “lewd,” and many aren’t willing to duke it out in court because such fights are costly and may drag out for long periods of time. For example, a Northern California school district recently settled a case with a lesbian student, again filed by the ACLU, after the school said her T-shirt, which read, “Nobody knows I’m a lesbian,” violated the dress code. The school district had to amend its dress code as part of the settlement.