A federal court ruled that a charter school's dress code is unconstitutional and that girls can't be forced to wear skirts

New Africa/ShutterstockFemale students were required to wear knee-length skirts.
  • On Thursday, a federal court ruled that it’s unconstitutional for a charter school in North Carolina to require that female students wear skirts – and only skirts – all year long.
  • Three female students, ages 5, 10, and 14, were represented in the case.
  • One student said she felt restricted wearing skirts while her male classmates were able to move freely in pants and even shorts.
  • The legal battle began as a student-driven petition. It took years for the situation to be resolved.
  • “The skirts requirement causes the girls to suffer a burden the boys do not, simply because they are female,” the judge wrote in his ruling

It began with a petition.

At Charter Day School in Leland, North Carolina, the dress code required that girls wear knee-length skirts all year-round. But boys were allowed to wear pants – and even shorts, as weather permitted.

So in 2015, Keely Burks and her friends circulated a petition around the K-8 school asking officials to change the uniform policy. They got over 100 supporting signatures before it was confiscated, Burks wrote in March 2016 blog post for the ACLU.

“Personally, I hate wearing skirts,” the student wrote. “Even with tights and leggings, skirts are cold to wear in the winter, and they’re not as comfortable as shorts in the summer.”

Read more: A mum wrote an open letter asking college students to stop wearing leggings. Instead, students staged a counter-protest.

In her post, Burks said that has felt embarrassed by the school’s dress code. She said she felt especially excluded during recess when boys would “sometimes play soccer or do flips and cartwheels.”

The student said she was even punished one occasion when she “mistakenly” wore shorts on the last day of school. Burks said that she was taken out of class because of her outfit.

“I had to sit in the office all day and wasn’t allowed to go back to class until my mum could come to pick me up-all because I wasn’t wearing a skirt, ” she wrote.

Several parents spoke to school officials about the dress code and uniform, but the school refused to change its policy. According to a student handbook, the dress code exists as such to “instill discipline” and “promote a sense of pride and of team spirit.”

Years after Burks’s original petition, another group of young women raised the issue again. Three students – ages 5, 10, and 14 – sought the help and representation of the ACLU and the Ellis & Winters LLP to sue the public charter school over its uniform policy.

On Thursday, a federal court ruled that it’s unconstitutional for the school to require that female students wear skirts – and only skirts – year round, the New York Times reported.

In court, the school argued that the uniforms create a sense of “mutual respect between girls and boys” and should be upheld. But Judge Malcolm J. Howard rejected their argument.

“The skirts requirement causes the girls to suffer a burden the boys do not, simply because they are female,” Howard wrote.

The parents involved in the case are pleased with the outcome, according to an ACLU press release.

“All I wanted was for my 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,” said Bonnie Peltier, whose daughter was a student at the charter school at the time of the lawsuit.

She continued: “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.”

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