After a lower court ruled that a North Carolina charter school’s policy requiring female students to wear skirts in the sake of “chivalry” was unconstitutional, the Supreme Court on Monday (26 June) declined to reconsider the case.
The decision is a victory for civil liberties advocates and a defeat for social conservatives who had hoped that, after allowing vouchers to be used at religious schools last year, the highest court in the United States would exempt charter schools from constitutional protections.
The case could have had far-reaching implications for charter schools, which operate in a gray area as publicly funded institutions managed by private organizations.
Ria Tabacco Mar of the American Civil Liberties Union said in an email –
“If accepted, Charter Day School’s argument that it should be free to violate students’ constitutional rights would have … threatened the freedoms of 3.6 million public charter school students nationwide.”
The ACLU represented two parents and a pupil who challenged the school’s dress code. In a statement, Charter Day founder Baker Mitchell referred to the declination as “disappointing,” stating that it subjects charter schools to “rules, regulations, and political machinations that have crippled government-run school systems” and endangers “the unique classical academic program that has served our students well for the past 24 years.”
Only public institutions may be prosecuted for violating constitutional rights, which protect students against discrimination, censorship, and expulsion from school. Students cannot be required to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, undocumented students have the right to attend school, and all students, regardless of race, have the right to an equal education.
The appellate court examined the specifics of North Carolina’s charter school system, noting that state law explicitly defines charter as public schools open to all pupils, holds them to state board of education standards, and provides government benefits to charter school employees. The court noted that ninety-five percent of Charter Day’s funding originates from public sources.
Did you know that Philadelphia Police stated on Monday (June 26) that they arrested 175 people in Kensington over a three-day period last week? The initiative, according to Commissioner Danielle Outlaw, is an effort to combat crime in an area with some of the highest rates of gun violence and drug transactions in the city:
While state-by-state arrangements vary, charter schools in other jurisdictions are subject to similar requirements. Ten states, led by Texas, petitioned the Supreme Court to hear the case and declare that public charter schools are not covered by the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause. Multiple religious organizations also voiced concern regarding challenges to the practices of faith-based adoption agencies, charities, and healthcare providers.
The Biden administration urged the Supreme Court not to overturn the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, arguing in a brief that a ruling in favor of Charter Day “would allow states to evade constitutional constraints by delegating core governmental functions to private entities.”
The administration also distinguished between Charter Day and a Maine Christian school that was permitted to accept federal funding in 2002 by the Supreme Court. The solicitor general’s office stated that Maine has a history of “relying on private schools to educate residents in sparsely populated areas” while allowing those institutions to remain independent. The state of North Carolina does not.
In a number of states, conservatives have successfully pushed for the expansion of programs that send public funds to religious schools via voucher programs, which grant families money to spend at a private institution of their choosing. The manner in which — or whether — states regulate private schools, such as whether they must provide special-education services, admit all students, or adhere to nondiscrimination laws, varies by state.
Several individuals have responded to the news via social media –
A charter school in North Carolina tried so hard to require girls to wear skirts that they took it to the Supreme Court and were denied because it violated the student’s constitutional rights.
Apparently this is what the GOP means by education, instead of reading books.
— Kate 🤍🇺🇸 (@ImSpeaking13) June 26, 2023
The Supreme Court turned down a case when a charter school wanted to make the girls wear skirts. As two-centuries ago as that sounds, the un-ironic reason why is even more insane. pic.twitter.com/ND4m0D1aeY
— Rich Brooks (@therichbrooks) June 27, 2023
BREAKING NEWS: Another fair ruling from the far right extreme Supreme Court.
NC charter school is not allowed to require girls to wear skirts. It violates equal protection because charter schools receive public funding.
Wish we had had this in 1960s.
— Mary Lou Grier (@MaryLouGrier1) June 26, 2023
Advocates of religious education hoped that the Supreme Court would pave the way for the establishment of publicly financed religious charter schools that could proselytize without violating the separation of church and state. While the Supreme Court was reviewing the North Carolina case earlier this month, Oklahoma approved the nation’s first religious charter school, which will open the following year.
St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School intends to serve “as a genuine instrument of the Church” and adhere to only those federal civil rights laws that do not contradict church doctrine. Even state officials in the staunchly Republican state were conflicted about the charter, the attorney general called it a flagrant violation of church and state that would compel approval of other schools that “most Oklahomans would consider reprehensible and unworthy of public funding.”
Even if federal courts had determined that Charter Day was not a state actor, the school may have been compelled to abandon the skirt policy. The 4th Circuit did not rule on whether the dress code violated Title IX, which prohibits gender discrimination in institutions receiving federal funding.
In seventh grade, Keely Burks circulated a petition challenging the school’s skirt policy. Burks stated in a court document that donning a skirt made her cold in the winter and limited her ability to sit or move comfortably throughout the year. She added that during fire drills, males would make jokes about being able to see up her and other girls’ skirts.
A teacher confiscated the petition. Burks and the parents of two other children sued the school the following year. Bonnie Peltier filed a lawsuit on behalf of her 5-year-old daughter, claiming that skirts constrained her. Mitchell responded that the purpose of the policy was “to preserve chivalry and respect among young men and women.” He stated that boys are required “to hold the door open for the young ladies and carry an umbrella” to shield girls from the rain.
Peltier wrote in the suit –
“I want [my daughter] to grow up knowing that she is as capable as her male classmates, that she can achieve as much as her male classmates can, and that she does not need her male classmates to protect her.”
Under the name Classical Charter Schools of America, Mitchell now administers four schools in southeast North Carolina. In accordance with the 4th Circuit’s decision, schools began permitting female pupils to wear pants last year.