Sexist dress codes for children are unconstitutional, says the U.S. 4th Circuit Court about a North Carolina school wanting to force little girls to wear skirts.

The Charter Day School in Leland, North Carolina was founded in 2000 with a curriculum out of 1900, focused around ‘traditional values.’ The school, which receives federal funds diverted away from public schools in the area, had a dress code which required girls to wear skirts, skorts, or dresses only. In 2016, the parents of three students in the school filed a lawsuit on the basis that the dress code violated Title IX protections. According to what was filed in court, the parents were told that the dress code is “based on the view that girls are ‘fragile vessels’ deserving of ‘gentle’ treatment by boys.”

Initially a lower district court ruled that the policy wasn’t unconstitutional because Title IX doesn’t apply to sexist dress codes. The parents pursued the matter, and on Tuesday, the U.S. 4th circuit court declared a decision precisely opposite that first ruling.

“Title IX unambiguously applies to sex-based dress codes,” wrote the court’s panel in its decision.

“The negative impact of such gender stereotypes is not limited to girls. Evidence in the record shows that children who believe in such views are more likely to engage in gender-segregated play, which later can affect their communication skills and personal relationships. Most disturbingly, that evidence also shows that boys who hold stereotype-infused beliefs about gender are more likely to be the perpetrators of sexual harassment. Plainly, these outcomes are a far cry from ‘respect,’ traditional or otherwise, among and for all students,” continued the panel.

“Of course, the skirts requirement is merely one component of CDS’ imposition of “traditional gender roles” on its young students. According to CDS, its female students are “fragile” and must acquiesce to having boys hold umbrellas over them when it rains. Considering this jaw-dropping assessment of girls’ capabilities, we may never know the full scope or all the consequences of CDS’ blatant, unapologetic discrimination against its female students. But the skirts requirement, harmless as it may seem to the defendants, requires only a pull of the thread to unravel the lifelong social consequences of gender discrimination. In 2022, there is no conceivable basis for allowing such obstacles to girls’ progress in our public schools.”

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