By Keely Burks

I am like a lot of eighth grade students. I try to do my best in class, I like sports and playing outside, and I regularly go to Bible classes. I also believe in standing up for myself and others. So last year, along with some friends, I created a petition to ask my school to change its policy that says girls have to wear skirts to school or risk being punished.

I go to Charter Day School, a K-8 public charter school in Leland, North Carolina. Like a lot of schools, Charter Day has a uniform policy. That policy says that all female students have to wear skirts that are “knee-length or longer” and that we can’t wear pants or shorts, except on gym days. Boys are able to wear pants and shorts every day. My friends and I got more than 100 signatures on our petition, but it was taken from us by a teacher and we never got it back. Some parents asked about changing the policy, but the school said that making girls wear skirts is supposed to promote “chivalry” and “traditional values.”   

Now we are turning to the ACLU for help. This week the ACLU of North Carolina and the ACLU Women’s Rights Project filed a lawsuit on behalf of me and two other students that says Charter Day’s uniform policy violates the law and discriminates against girls.   

Personally, I hate wearing skirts. Even with tights and leggings, skirts are cold to wear in the winter, and they’re not as comfortable as shorts in the summer. I love playing outside, especially soccer and gymnastics. When we go outside for recess, the boys in my class will sometimes play soccer or do flips and cartwheels. But I feel like I can’t because I’m wearing a skirt.

And it’s not just when I go outside. When I’m sitting in class, I have to pay attention to the position of my legs when I’m in a skirt, and it can be very distracting and uncomfortable. When I was in first grade and we sat on the floor, my teacher told all the girls that we couldn’t sit “criss-cross applesauce” like the boys in class. Instead, the teacher said we had to sit on the floor with our legs curled to the side because we were in skirts. When I said I didn’t want to sit that way, my teacher took me aside and put me in time out.

And I’ve was even punished on the last day of school one year for wearing shorts when I mistakenly thought it was permitted. I had to sit in the office all day  and wasn’t allowed to go back to class until my mom could come pick me up—all because I wasn’t wearing a skirt. 

In the year 2016, I don’t think anyone should have a problem with young women wearing pants. There are so many professional women – businesswomen, doctors, and world leaders – who wear pants every day.  If I had the choice, I would wear pants or shorts to school every day. Some of my classmates would probably still want to wear skirts—but that should be their decision, not the school’s. Either way, we should have a choice.

I hope that by challenging my school’s policy, I can help other girls who want to go to school without being stereotyped, or who just want to play outside or sit in class without feeling uncomfortable.