Supreme Court Rejects Appeal from Public Charter School Seeking Permission to Violate Students’ Constitutional Rights

June 26, 2023 9:36 am

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WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court of the United States today let stand a federal court decision holding that a North Carolina public charter school must respect its students’ constitutional rights and that the schools’ “skirts only” rule for girls violates civil rights laws.

In Peltier v. Charter Day School, parents and students at Charter Day School in Brunswick County, NC, challenged the “skirts only” rule for girls, which the school says it adopted based on the belief that every girl is a “fragile vessel.” The school argued that, as a public charter school, it should be free to violate students’ constitutional rights that other types of public schools must respect.

In June 2022, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the girls, concluding that North Carolina created its charter schools as a form of public school and that Charter Day School is a “state actor” that must abide by the Constitution like other public schools. The court further found that the “skirts only” rule for girls violated their right to be free from sex discrimination, writing: “Nothing in the Equal Protection Clause prevents public schools from teaching universal values of respect and kindness, but those values are never advanced by the discriminatory treatment of girls in a public school.”

The Supreme Court’s decision today rejecting the school’s appeal lets the Fourth Circuit’s decision stand.

“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. “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.”

“North Carolina has chosen to meet its constitutional duty to provide a sound basic education to all kids by creating a public school system that includes publicly-funded charter schools,” said Kristi Graunke, Legal Director of the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation. “The Court’s decision ensures publicly funded charter schools are not above the law.”

Separately, the school had argued that Title IX, the law prohibiting gender discrimination in schools that receive federal funding, does not apply to student dress codes. The Fourth Circuit recognized that Title IX applies to discrimination in student dress codes and sent the case back to the district court to assess whether the law was violated in this case. The Supreme Court’s announcement today that it will not hear the appeal paves the way for the Title IX case to proceed in the district court.

Girls at Charter Day School (now called Classical Charter Schools of Leland) and their parents challenged the skirts requirement in 2016 as sex discrimination under the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution and Title IX. They are represented by the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation, and the law firm Ellis & Winters LLP.

For more on Peltier v. Charter Day School, click here:

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