An alarming ruling on skirts for school dress codes

(Taimei Elementary School via AP)

Some bad news out of North Carolina last week in terms of school choice and attempts to improve our failing public school systems. The 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals handed down a defeat to Charter Day School in Leland, North Carolina. The parents of four female students in grades K-8 sued the school over its dress code that requires girls to wear skirts. The girls claimed that wearing skirts made them feel uncomfortable and put them at a disadvantage compared to the boys, who obviously aren’t required (or allowed) to wear skirts. A lower court previously found that the school wasn’t subject to the equal protection clause because it didn’t meet the definition of being “a state actor.” The 4th Circuit disagreed and found in favor of the plaintiffs. (NY Post)

A federal court just handed the Biden administration — and everyone else who stands in the way of fixing our broken public-education system — a brand new weapon.

The 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled North Carolina’s Charter Day School’s skirt requirement for female students unconstitutional, because as a “state actor,” the school can’t have gender-based dress codes as they allegedly violate equal-protection laws.

This decision goes far beyond dress codes. Whether the 4th Circuit was motivated by politics we don’t know. But there’s no doubt those applauding the ruling are doing so for nakedly partisan reasons.

This issue goes far deeper than a simple question of whether or not charter schools can impose dress codes, although that’s important as well. By getting a court to declare CDS a “state actor,” the floodgates could be open to lawsuits designed to force charter schools to comply with all the rest of the governmental whims that have turned the public school system into such a ludicrous mess. The Post editorial excerpted above goes on to warn that this could spell the end of all charter schools and the concept of school choice.

The dress code aspect of this issue was a tough one for me to wrap my head around, I’ll admit. I’ve never had a problem with private schools having a dress code and even school uniforms if appropriate. And in families holding to traditional values, the idea of saying that there can’t be any differences between how boys and girls dress is nonsensical.

But at the same time, we should be able to recognize that styles change over time and the same goes for lifestyles. As long as the choice of clothing or school uniforms has a bit of flexibility to it, there must be some common ground to be found here. I’m not saying that hot pants and wifebeaters should fit into the mold, of course. But in the current era, it seems as if offering the female students an option of either a skirt or a pair of slacks or dress pants would be fine. Particularly for those who participate in athletic activities during recess, I can understand where a skirt could be a drawback. There are other “professional” options for female students that should be acceptable.

On top of that, if such options had been offered, the school might not have wound up in court to begin with. That could have avoided the entire “state actor” debate that now threatens to spread this problem all across the country. The school still has the option of appealing and this case could, in theory, wind up in the Supreme Court. But based on the way the suit is structured and some previous rulings the current court has handed down, even the conservative justices might end up siding with the state.