Wednesday, June 15, 2022
In Peltier v. Charter Day School, the United States Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, sitting en banc, held a charter school in North Carolina to be a state actor for purposes of Section 1983 (for an Fourtheenth Amendment Equal Protection claim) and for purposes of Title IX. This meant that the charter could not apply its traditional rules and require girls to wear skirts.
Like most charters, Charter Day School is a nonprofit that is recognized by the IRS as a charitable organization exempt from tax under section 501(a) because described in Section 501(c)(3). Charter Day School and its management company argued that as a private entity it was not a state actor.
"CDS, a public charter school in Brunswick County, North Carolina, educates male and female students in kindergarten through the eighth grade. The founder of the school, Baker A. Mitchell, Jr., incorporated defendant Charter Day School, Inc. in 1999. The following year, he obtained a charter from the state of North Carolina, pursuant to the North Carolina Charter Schools Act of 1996, N.C. Gen. Stat. § 115C-218 et seq. CDS’ policies are established by the volunteer members of its Board of Trustees (the Board). Mitchell initially served as the Board’s chairman and now serves as its non-voting secretary."
For those interested in conflict of interest and for profit charter management companies, Charter Day School entered into a charter management contract with Roger A Bacon, Inc. This is a for profit company owned and managed by Mitchell the founder of the Charter Day School who also sits on the board of Charter Day School.
The Court concluded as follows:
"In sum, we hold that CDS, a public school under North Carolina law, is a state actor for purposes of Section 1983 and the Equal Protection Clause. By implementing the skirts requirement based on blatant gender stereotypes about the “proper place” for girls and women in society, CDS has acted in clear violation of the Equal Protection Clause. We further hold that sex-based dress codes like the skirts requirement, when imposed by covered entities, are subject to review under the anti-discrimination provisions of Title IX. We therefore affirm the district court’s award of summary judgment to the plaintiffs on their Equal Protection claim against CDS and affirm the court’s award of summary judgment to RBA on that claim. We vacate the district court’s judgment on the Title IX claim and remand for an evidentiary hearing on that claim asserted against all defendants."
In concluding that Charter Day School is a state actor the Court focused particularly upon the fact that the North Carolina Constitution committed to providing free, universal elementary and secondary schooling to the state’s residents and that charters were ensconced as a part of state law to providing that public education.
Notably though, the for profit management company was not found to be a state actor. This will continue to be an interesting area to watch given that states allow charters to not have to follow many state laws required of public schools.