When eighth-grader Keely Burks was fed up with having to wear skirts to school, she decided to take matters into her own hands.
Back in 2016, Keely said, she and some friends started a petition to have Charter Day School, a K-8 public charter school in North Carolina, change its dress code policy that requires girls to wear knee-length or longer skirts or risk being punished. The policy says boys can wear pants or shorts as part of their uniform.
But then, a teacher took the petition away and didnt give it back, Keely said. So she took her plight to the American Civil Liberties Union, which sued the school on behalf of Keely and two other students.
On Thursday, three years later, Charter Day School's dress code was struck down in federal court.
Bonnie Peltier is the mother of one of the other students involved and had contacted Keely's family to rally the group that went to the ACLU in 2016. Peltier was first familiarized with Charter Day's dress code when her daughter started kindergarten there in the fall of 2015.
"It just didn't sit well with me," Peltier told InsideEdition.com. Peltier said her daughter, who's now 8, likes to wear both skirts and pants, depending on her mood. Peltier didn't have a problem with the uniform, she said, she just wanted her daughter to have a choice.
At first, she tried to talk to the school administration and find a solution, Peltier said. She spoke with the school's founder, who she said told her the dress code helps boys practice chivalry and respect with girls wearing skirts.
Charter Day School did not respond to InsideEdition.com's request for comment.
"I think people should be respected no matter what they wear," Peltier said, adding that forcing girls to wear only skirts perpetuates stereotypical gender roles. "It's not 1950. In this day and age, I can't believe these notions are still in people's heads that women have to dress a certain way to be respected."
In a post on the ACLU North Carolina's website, Keely listed several reasons why she hates wearing skirts. She said they leave her cold in the winter, and they are less comfortable than shorts in the summer. Keely loves playing games at recess like soccer and gymnastics, but she said she can't do the same "flips and cartwheels" that the boys do because she wears 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," Keely added.
Amy Katz, an attorney with the Women's Rights Project at the ACLU, told InsideEdition.com it was the stereotyping that "really resonated with us more than anything."
"The dress code was a symptom of the stereotyping and seemed to be enabling it. Can't you just hold the door open for anybody? Why don’t we have mutual respect for human beings regardless of their sex? Everybody thought this was wrong," Katz said.
U.S. District Judge Malcolm Harris ruled that “the skirts requirement causes the girls to suffer a burden the boys do not, simply because they are female." He said the policy violated the Constitution's Equal Protection Clause.
The judge disagreed with the school's claim that the dress code promotes traditional values, writing, "Women (and girls) have, for at least several decades, routinely worn both pants and skirts in various settings, including professional settings and school settings. Females have been allowed to wear trousers or pants in all but the most formal or conservative settings since the 1970s.”
Keely also said that women's dress has progressed through the years. She said, "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."
In a statement on the ACLU North Carolina's website, Peltier said she's happy with the ruling but disappointed "it took a court order to force the school to accept the simple fact that, in 2019, girls should have the choice to wear pants."
Peltier added: “All I wanted was for my daughter and every other girl at school to have the option to wear pants so she could play outside, sit comfortably, and stay warm in the winter."
Keely, now almost 18, said she hopes her story 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."
For her, like Peltier and her daughter, it's all about having the freedom to decide for yourself.
"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," Keely said.
In an announcement to parents obtained by InsideEdition.com, Charter Day School said that girls will be allowed to wear "belted shorts and pants" in the "appropriate school color" while the litigation continues.