Three North Carolina schoolgirls (ages 5, 10, and 14) have won a years-long battle with an overtly sexist school policy prohibiting girls from wearing pants.
The girls were attending charter Day School, a K-8 public charter school in Leland, North Carolina. Like many other charter schools, Charter Day has a uniform policy, requiring female students to wear skirts that are knee-length or longer. Girls were not allowed to wear shorts or pants except on gym days, while boys are allowed to wear shorts and pants whenever they want.
Keely Burks, one of the students, started a petition to end this sexist policy, but it was initially taken away from her by a teacher. Rather than give up, however, Burks took to the internet and asked for public support.
She was in eighth grade at the time.
Some parents even contacted the school in support for changing the policy, but all were told that it was enforced because skirts were meant to support “chivalry” and “traditional values.”
Burks’ initial petition gathered over 100 signatures.
The school’s official handbook states that the dress code policy is in place to “instill discipline and promote a sense of pride and of team spirit.” In addition, it claims to reflect the standards of the parents who choose to send their children to the school.
After facing opposition from school officials, the girls took their case to the ACLU of North Carolina and the ACLU Women’s Rights Project for help. These organizations filed a lawsuit on behalf of the students that claims the policy violates the law and discriminates against girls.
Girls who violated the policy at Charter Day were often punished and, in numerous situations, girls were taken out of class for not sitting correctly in their skirts. When they dared to not wear a skirt in general, they were kept in the principal’s office until a skirt could be brought to them.
Not only was this disruptive to the girls’ learning, they often felt they were being unfairly judged. Some of the female students who attend the school say that the skirts were cold in the winter, it was uncomfortable to have to constantly pay attention to the position of their legs, and they couldn’t truly play during recess.
Recently the girls finally found justice when a federal judge ruled the policy unconstitutional. The judge Malcolm J. Howard, wrote, “The skirts requirement causes the girls to suffer a burden the boys do not, simply because they are female.”
For parents of students, the news is bittersweet. Bonnie Peltier, the mother of one of the female students, wishes the news had come sooner and says, “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.”
We here at NYMM agree.
In fact, our editor-in-chief Sarah wonders when North Carolina turned into the Taliban. Powerful and successful women wear pants every day, from doctors to lawyers to world leaders; nobody should be forced to follow an outdated policy over comfort.