RICHMOND, Va. — A North Carolina charter school violated the constitutional rights of female students by requiring them to wear skirts, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.

A majority of the United States Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit found that Leland Charter Day School’s dress code violated the equal rights protections of female students, siding with parents who argued that their daughters were disadvantaged by this requirement.

Public schools have long been prohibited from enacting such mandates, but the majority of the court found that public charter schools, since they receive public funds, are also “state actors” and therefore subject to the equal protection clause of the Constitution.

The court also ordered that further hearings be held in a lower federal court on allegations that the policy violated the federal Title IX anti-discrimination law.

Tuesday’s decision came after an en banc hearing before 16 4th Circuit judges. It overturns an earlier decision by a three-judge panel of the same court that found the public charter school was not subject to the equal protection clause because it did not meet all the criteria to be considered an actor. state.

The plaintiffs, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, welcomed the decision.

“I am happy that the girls at Charter Day School can now learn, move and play on an equal footing with the boys at school,” said Bonnie Peltier, a complainant whose daughter attended the school, in a communicated. “In 2022, girls shouldn’t have to choose between wearing something that makes them feel uncomfortable or missing instruction time in class.”

Galen Sherwin, senior counsel for the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, said in a statement that the decision could have an impact beyond North Carolina.

“Today’s ruling is a victory for North Carolina students attending public charter schools and should put charter schools across the country on notice that they must follow the same rules as traditional public schools when ‘It’s about ensuring equal educational opportunity for students,’ Sherwin said. .

The students who challenged the policy were in kindergarten through eighth grade. They argued that they received unequal treatment compared to male students, noting that the dress code limited their ability to participate in recess and made them feel uncomfortable in certain situations such as emergency drills. in which they had to crawl on the ground.

In considering the “state actor” issue, the court’s majority opinion, authored by Senior Circuit Judge Barbara Milano Keenan, noted that the charter school receives state funding, is subject to state educational requirements and is referred to as a “public school” under state law. Thus, Keenan wrote that “the state has delegated to charter school operators like CDS part of the state’s constitutional duty” to provide free education.

Charter Day School had argued that it was simply a private entity fulfilling a contract with the state.

The school’s founder, Baker Mitchell, had argued that the dress code was intended to promote “chivalry” among male students and respect for female students, according to court documents. Mitchell, according to the ruling, described chivalry as “a code of conduct where women are treated, they are seen as a fragile vessel that men are expected to care for and honor.” He said the requirement was also intended to ensure girls were treated “courteously and more gently than boys”, according to court documents.

Keenan wrote that the school’s justification was based on an impermissible gender stereotype.

The school “imposed the requirement for skirts with the express purpose of telegraphing to children that girls are ‘fragile’, require protection from boys and warrant different treatment than male students, stereotyping with potentially consequences devastating for young girls,” she wrote.

Aaron Streett, a lawyer representing Charter Day School, released a statement saying the legal team disagreed with the majority opinion and noted the issues raised in a dissent. He said the school was assessing the next steps in the court case.

“As the six dissenting justices forcefully explain, the majority opinion contradicts Supreme Court precedent on state action, divides with all other circuits to consider the issue, and limits the ability of parents to choose the best education for their children,” the statement said.