School that Forced Girls to Wear Skirts to Promote “Chivalry” to Pay $1.465 Million in Attorney Fees and Costs as Part of Settlement

School Also Agrees to Update Its Handbook to Remove Short Hair Rule for Boys

March 22, 2024 12:00 pm

LELAND, N.C. — A settlement has been reached in Peltier v. Charter Day School, a case brought by parents and students who challenged a North Carolina public charter school’s “skirts only” rule for girls, which the school says it adopted based on the belief that every girl is a “fragile vessel” and to promote “chivalry.” Under the settlement, Charter Day School (now called Classical Charter Schools of America or CCSA) agreed to pay $1.465 million in attorney fees and costs. The school also agreed to drop its requirement that boys have short hair in response to a separate incident where the school told a member of the Waccamaw Siouan Tribe that her son’s hair — worn long by Waccamaw Siouan men and boys for thousands of years — was “faddish” and must be cut.

“I was taken aback when I learned that my 5-year-old daughter would not be allowed the same comfort in school afforded to her older brother and appalled by the sexist stereotypes underlying the dress code,” said Bonnie Peltier, the parent of a former student and plaintiff in the case. “It took eight years, but I’m grateful to have played a part in establishing that North Carolina charter schools cannot trample students’ rights.”

In June 2023, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit holding that CCSA must respect its students’ constitutional rights and that the school’s “skirts only” rule for girls violated civil rights laws. In ruling in favor of the plaintiffs, the Fourth Circuit noted that CCSA “imposed the skirts requirement with the express purpose of telegraphing to children that girls are ‘fragile,’ require protection by boys, and warrant different treatment than male students, stereotypes with potentially devastating consequences for young girls.”

“This settlement should send a strong message to all public schools: Dress codes that impose different requirements based on sex perpetuate the notion that girls are not equal to boys, harming students of all genders,” said Ria Tabacco Mar, director of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “Schools should adopt gender-inclusive dress codes — or risk facing steep costs.”

“Our clients took a stand against discrimination in public charter schools and won. This case affirms that children in public charter schools are entitled to the same constitutional rights as other public school students and don’t surrender their civil rights at the charter school door,” said Kristi Graunke, legal director of the ACLU of North Carolina Foundation.

The girls will each receive $1.00 in nominal damages as a symbol of the discrimination they experienced. They are represented by the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, the ACLU of North Carolina Foundation, and the law firm Ellis & Winters LLP.

Separately, last spring the ACLU sent a warning letter to CCSA advising the school that demanding that a Native American first grader cut his traditional long hair to conform to the school’s short hair rule for boys likely infringed his religious and cultural beliefs and constituted sex discrimination. Ashley Lomboy, the boy’s mother and a member of the Waccamaw Siouan Tribe, was told by a CCSA administrator that her son’s hair was “faddish” and must be cut because “we want them all to look the same.” Under the settlement in Pelter v. Charter Day School, CCSA also agreed to update its student handbook to remove the short hair rule for boys.

“We are thankful no other boys will be told they don’t belong at Classical Charter Schools of America because of their long hair. Native American boys should be free to wear their traditional braids with pride. These oppressive policies are intended to indoctrinate our children into a belief that boys and girls should only look and dress one way regardless of your race or religion, imprinting on their young minds that there is something wrong if you don’t look and dress the way the school says you should,” said Ashley Lomboy, member of the Waccamaw Siouan Tribe and parent of a former student at the school. “It’s a reminder that freedom is not free, and we must continue to fight to protect it.”

The ACLU recently launched a story gathering form to collect stories from people who have encountered dress and appearance policies at their school or workplace that treated them differently based on gender stereotypes. People can submit their stories here.

More information about Peltier v. Charter Day School can be found here:

More information about the warning letter can be found here:

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