A wide-angle view of a young girl with curly brown hair sitting outside of her classroom with her hand on her knee looking fed up.

North Carolina School’s Sexist Skirts-Only Dress Code Deemed Unconstitutional in Court

The dress code at a K–8 school in North Carolina has been deemed unconstitutional by the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.

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According to Star News Online, the guardians of three students at Charter Day School in Leland—which was founded in 2000 with a curriculum based around “traditional values” and receives federal funds—filed a lawsuit in 2016, claiming the school’s dress code violated Title IX protections from gender-based discrimination. Female students at the school are required to wear skirts, skorts, or jumpers, and are prohibited from wearing pants or shorts. According to court documents, the dress code is “based on the view that girls are ‘fragile vessels’ deserving of ‘gentle’ treatment by boys.”

In its decision Tuesday, the court said this dress code caused girls “emotional and dignitary harm” and that they were excluded from educational opportunities because of the clothing restrictions. A panel of judges ruled the dress code unconstitutional.

This is a huge deal with potentially massive implications. Initially, a district court ruled that the policy wasn’t unconstitutional because Title IX doesn’t apply to dress codes. By overturning that ruling and declaring in its decision that “Title IX unambiguously applies to sex-based dress codes,” the appeals court could be setting a precedent that could apply to other schools’ sexist dress codes—something generations of girls and young women have had to deal with as an impediment to their education.

“The negative impact of such gender stereotypes is not limited to girls,” the court’s panel wrote in its decision. “Evidence in the record shows that children who believe in such views are more likely to engage in gender-segregated play, which later can affect their communication skills and personal relationships. Most disturbingly, that evidence also shows that boys who hold stereotype-infused beliefs about gender are more likely to be the perpetrators of sexual harassment. Plainly, these outcomes are a far cry from ‘respect,’ traditional or otherwise, among and for all students.”

The judges continued to not hold back their disdain for this policy:

Of course, the skirts requirement is merely one component of CDS’ imposition of “traditional gender roles” on its young students. According to CDS, its female students are “fragile” and must acquiesce to having boys hold umbrellas over them when it rains. Considering this jaw-dropping assessment of girls’ capabilities, we may never know the full scope or all the consequences of CDS’ blatant, unapologetic discrimination against its female students. But the skirts requirement, harmless as it may seem to the defendants, requires only a pull of the thread to unravel the lifelong social consequences of gender discrimination. In 2022, there is no conceivable basis for allowing such obstacles to girls’ progress in our public schools.

(via: Star News Online, image: SolStock/Getty Images)


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Vivian Kane
Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.