A federal judge recently ruled that the dress code at a North Carolina public charter school was in violation of federal sex discrimination laws. The charter school’s dress code required girls in kindergarten through eighth grade to wear skirts throughout the school year while male students wore pants. The parents of three female students filed a sex discrimination lawsuit claiming that the skirt requirement was biased and in violation of federal anti-discrimination laws.
The lawsuit claimed that the skirt requirement caused unnecessary discomfort for the female students, limited their activity, and distracted them from their studies. Female students reported feeling self-conscious and uncomfortable while sitting at their desks, playing at recess, and engaging in other activities during the day for fear their undergarments would be exposed. The plaintiffs claimed that the skirts forced the girls to sit in uncomfortable positions and abstain from many physical activities during the day.
With help from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a mother of one of the female students named in the lawsuit claimed that consideration for her daughter’s comfort should be equal to that of the male students at the school. She argued that failure to provide comfortable options for female students caused her daughter to be distracted from her academic activities because of the discomfort she felt the skirt imposed.
While the charter school is funded through taxpayer dollars, they are not required to adhere to the same mandates of the public schools. Uniform requirements are part of the charter school’s focus on values and discipline; and requiring students to wear uniforms is not a violation of anti-discrimination laws. Uniforms are meant to bring pride to the school community, encourage discipline, and promote community.
In accordance with North Carolina state public school policies, punishment for not adhering to required dress codes were enforced at the charter school. The judge that ruled on the case stated that the charter school was not obligated to enforce punishment as a result of dress code violations. Doing so added to the plight of the female students that already believed they were being treated unfairly.
In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs asked the school to revise the dress code to include the option for girls to wear pants. Including this option would allow the girls to choose the apparel that was most comfortable for them and allowed for their freedom of movement in all activities.
Officials defending the charter school’s restrictions on their dress code argue that the discipline enforced by the school uniforms support the broader goals of the school. The charter school defends its principles with academic scores far above those at the state’s public school level, however there is no indication that the skirt requirement enhances student performance.
For assistance in drafting and enforcing school policies and procedures, call the West Chester education lawyers at MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser at 484-318-7106, or contact us online to schedule a consultation today. Our West Chester, Pennsylvania offices serve clients throughout Philadelphia, Chester County, and across the state.