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Supreme Court Declines to Hear Appeal in North Carolina Charter School Uniform Case

’Girls at public charter schools have the same constitutional rights as their peers at other public schools,’ said the ACLU

A North Carolina charter school will not be able to argue for its right to require female students to wear skirts after the United States Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

The Charter Day School appealed to the nation’s highest court after a lower court sided with three students and their parents, who argued the uniform requirement violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

The public charter school is located in Brunswick County and is operated by a for-profit company. It offers classes to students between kindergarten and eighth grade. Charter Day School emphasizes “traditional values” through its “traditional curriculum, traditional manners and traditional respect.” The school had argued its skirts-only uniform rule for female students stemmed from its mission to keep order, “preserve chivalry” and to help teach students about “respect among young women and men.”

All students wear a unisex uniform during gym or physical education classes.

Baker Mitchell, the charter school’s founder and president, said he believes chivalry includes regarding women as “a fragile vessel that men are supposed to take care of and honor.”

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the Charter Day School in June of 2022. The Court found that, because the school is a “state actor,” it is bound by the same regulations as other public schools and, moreover, the skirt requirement for girls violated anti-sex-discrimination laws.

“No public school in North Carolina can violate the constitutional rights of its students,” wrote Senior Circuit Judge Barbara Milano Keenan for the majority. “If a student wishes to attend a school with discriminatory policies, the student must select a private institution not subject to the constraints of the Constitution.”

The American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the plaintiffs, sued Charter Day School in March of 2016, in part arguing the uniform rule promotes “antiquated gender stereotypes.” The ACLU said the Supreme Court’s decision to not take up the school’s appeal sends the message that the school “must respect its students’ constitutional rights.”

“Today’s announcement is a victory for the thousands of students who attend public charter schools in North Carolina and for the 3.6 million students like them nationwide,” said Ria Tabacco Mar, Director of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, in a press release on June 26. “Girls at public charter schools have the same constitutional rights as their peers at other public schools – including the freedom to wear pants. We will continue to fight for all girls to learn in safe and equal schools.”

“The Court’s decision ensures publicly funded charter schools are not above the law,” added Kristi Graunke, the Legal Director of the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation.

The case, Peltier v. Charter Day School, will not impact private schools. 

The Supreme Court did not offer an explanation for its decision to decline the case.

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