Appeals court issues mixed ruling on NC school dress code

FALLS CHURCH, Va. (AP) – A federal appeals court on Monday dismissed a lower court ruling banning a North Carolina charter school from requiring girls to wear skirts.

But the 2-1 decision by the U.S. 4th Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, also opens up a new legal avenue to challenge the legality of the requirement for the skirts.

Charter Day School, a public charter school in Leland, North Carolina that serves elementary and high school students, was sued in 2016 by parents who opposed the dress code. The rules required girls to wear skirts, sweaters or skorts, except on gym days.

In 2019, a federal judge ruled that the dress code was unconstitutional because the charter school was to be considered an actor of the state and the rule violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

The school has since suspended this part of its dress code.

In Monday’s ruling, however, Justices A. Marvin Quattlebaum and Allison Jones Rushing, both appointed by former President Donald Trump, ruled that charter schools should not be considered state actors and therefore are not subject to the equal protection clause, a move that could give charter schools more leeway to operate as they see fit on issues beyond the implementation of dress codes.

But the decision does not categorically authorize the reinstatement of the dress code. Instead, he orders the lower court to consider whether the dress code violates Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education.

In a dissent, Judge Barbara Milano Keenan, appointed by former President Barack Obama, said the ruling banning the dress code should have been emphatically upheld.

“No, it’s not 1821 or 1921. It’s 2021,” Milano wrote. “Yet girls in some public schools in North Carolina are required to wear skirts to conform to the old-fashioned and illogical view that courteous behavior on the part of both sexes can only be achieved if girls wear skirts. clothes that reinforce gender stereotypes. “

Baker Mitchell, who founded the school in 1999, said he still believes in the dress code and a majority of parents at the school support him as well.

“We are a school of choice. We are classic in our program and very traditional. I believe the more traditional things you have in place, the more they tend to get stronger, ”he said in a phone interview. “We want boys to be boys and girls to be girls and respect each other. We want the boys to carry the girls’ umbrella and open doors for them… and we want to start teaching that in high school. “

The ACLU, which helped bring the lawsuit, released a statement on Monday saying it was happy the ruling opens up the possibility of contesting dress codes under Title IX, but disappointed that it overturns the finding of a violation of the equal protection clause.

“Dress codes that enforce different rules based on old-fashioned conventions about how girls should dress, look and behave while intentionally signaling that girls are not equal to boys perpetuate gender stereotypes and shouldn’t have a place in our public schools, ”said Galen Sherwin. , senior lawyer of the ACLU project for women’s rights.

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