Should public schools hold father-daughter dances, mother-son games? Is this an issue worth fighting?

Illegality aside, are father-daughter dances or mother-son baseball games at public schools a good idea? Why not just have family dances or games?

An elementary school in Rhode Island held a father-daughter dance last spring that led a single mom to complain to the ACLU, which protested to the Cranston school district. While the dance in question was held — and the mom escorted her daughter — the debate has been reignited by a candidate running for the state Legislature in Rhode Island. Inflamed by politics, the matter has entered a national stage, where most people are saying let schools hold father-daughter dances or mom-son games.

This is one of those education sideshows — the dance was done after school hours under the auspices of a parent organization — that attracts a lot of attention but has nothing to do with the core mission of schools. My husband and daughters have attended father-daughter dances, but never ones held at a public school. Do public schools in Georgia hold events limited to dads and daughters or moms and sons?

My own school holds breakfasts — dads and donuts, moms and muffins, grandparents and grits. Those events pass legal muster because there is no specificity to the sex of the students in attendance.

Because of the ACLU involvement and now the political hoopla, Cranston Schools felt obliged to publicly announce that it will not allow the dances, which, of course, has intensified the drama. The school committee has asked the General Assembly to approve an exception to Rhode Island’s sex-discrimination law so events for students of one sex can be held when an equivalent event is  provided for opposite sex students.

According to a Providence Journal story last week on the school district’s decision to ban father-daughter dances:

Supt. Judith Lundsten said the move was triggered by a letter from the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of a single mom who had complained that her daughter had not been able to attend her father-daughter dance.

Lundsten said school attorneys found while federal Title IX legislation banning gender discrimination gives an exemption for “father-son” and “mother-daughter” events, Rhode Island law doesn’t.

According to The New York Times:

The Cranston Public Schools Committee met Monday night to ask the state to create a special exception to a law they have cited in banning the dances. The law prohibits sex discrimination in “any and all other school functions and activities.”

By last spring, district officials say, a decade of turnover since the law was passed meant that administrators at Stadium Elementary were unaware of it, and the P.T.O. set out to plan the “Me and My Guy” dance, as well as a mother-son baseball game.

But a single mother identified only as Melissa complained first to the district and then to the state affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, which sent the school superintendent a letter citing federal Title IX rules that prohibit sex-specific events in educational settings unless “reasonably comparable” events are held.

“A dance for girls and a baseball game for boys, particularly in light of the stereotypes they embody, are not, we submit, ‘reasonably comparable’ activities,” the letter from the state A.C.L.U.’s director, Steven Brown, said. “To the contrary; the stereotypes at their core undermine the goal of school anti-discrimination laws.”

The district responded quickly, saying that the district had not approved the dance and that it would remind principals that it “does not condone gender-limited events,” as a letter from an assistant superintendent put it. In the end, though, the dance went on as planned and the mother who complained attended with her daughter.

It is not the first time Cranston has crossed paths with the civil liberties union. The city and the schools owe about $150,000 in legal fees after losing a lawsuit brought by the organization over a prayer banner that hung in Cranston High School West. The A.C.L.U. said displaying a prayer was inappropriate in a public school.

“After having to fork over the money because of the prayer banner, it’s like — the A.C.L.U sent us a letter, let’s run the other way rather than standing up for the kids,” said Richard Rodi, a parent. He was at the committee meeting Monday handing out fliers for Sean Gately, a Republican State Senate candidate who had brought up the father-daughter dance issue on a local radio show, stoking consternation among parents who had not realized there was a ban on such dances.

“Having those little father-daughter dances and seeing her all dressed up in her pretty dress — it’s a very special moment,” said Mr. Gately, who said the ban “offended me as a father and a husband.” “Nobody is being hurt by a father-daughter dance,” he said.

Some have been frustrated not by the ban but by the sharp back-and-forth it has generated here. “Let’s call this what it is,” said Joanne Spaziano, a teacher, “it’s political grandstanding.”

Most parents at the meeting expressed support for the school committee, which unanimously approved a resolution to ask the Rhode Island General Assembly to create an exception to its sex-discrimination rule and allow specific events for students of one sex when equivalents exist for students of the other.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

116 comments Add your comment

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Georgians for Educational Excellence

September 28th, 2012
9:52 am

Yes and no.

Bigger fish to fry.

bob

September 28th, 2012
9:52 am

Another great decision by the libs. Are they made up of the most selfish people or what ? If I can’t do it then you can’t either, how pathetic. The mother is an Obama voter.

williebkind

September 28th, 2012
9:55 am

Is it strange to you Maureen that one person can change every tradition the community may have just because they dont like it. Really? The entire school is put aside for that one irate parent. Is that not something to be discussed in school government classes?

Jaynie

September 28th, 2012
9:56 am

I don’t see any problem with a father-daughter dance or game nor a mother-son game or dance. I think we sometimes get a little too carried away with trying to make things equal for everybody. I was a single mother with two daughters so my kids did not attend father-daughter dances either. However, my granddaughters have attended several with their dads and loved it.

Lee

September 28th, 2012
9:59 am

“… a single mom who had complained that her daughter had not been able to attend her father-daughter dance.”

Sure she could have. All she had to do is to ask her FATHER to accompany her. I mean, unless the daughter was concieved in a petri dish, she does have a father. And even if there were circumstances such as the father passing, most of these events allow for grandfathers, uncles, or others to attend.

And if there were no male figures in this girl’s life, no one would have said anything if the Mom just showed up with her.

But no, Mom has to go all feminazi on everybody and make a mountain out of a molehill.

Some people really need to take a deep breath and get a life…

Really amazed

September 28th, 2012
10:02 am

OMG! Really??? More entitlement. Now if you have a dad you are being discriminated against those that don’t. Let’s just turn everything around. You are better off not having a father, better off not having a house, better off not having a job, better off not being educated, better off being leaving off the gov’t. If you have all of the above, you are in the wrong. Go dancing with your daughter, go play games with your sons. No this can’t be because of those that don’t have. Yes, these public gov’t school sure do have things right!!!

Wondering Allowed

September 28th, 2012
10:04 am

Oh, yes, schools should hold events like this. After all, why miss an opportunity to make someone without a parent feel awkward? After all, those kids likely don’t already have enough issues. If the school doesn’t hold events specifically for fathers/daughters or mothers/sons, then how will the child without a parent be singled out?

Parentless kids should just suck it up and keep their feelings of loss to themselves. We, as a community, are under no obligation to make things easier for them. In fact, given the opportunity to make them feel worse, we should go for it. Maybe it’s not enough to just hold the dance. Perhaps we should corral the children without parents into glass booths and force them to be exhibits in the middle of the room during the dance.

Seriously (hopefully the above was correctly recognized as sarcasm), that’s what it feels like to many of these children. Why, as intelligent caring people, would we want to create that situation just for a dance that nobody would miss if it weren’t held?

Any adult who thinks that type of activity has any merit should just think how his/her child would feel if next year, the parent was no longer there and the child was confronted with the other kids being excited about the event.

skipper

September 28th, 2012
10:08 am

ACLU; Association of Creepy Lunatics United. Before it is over, one will have to be a left-handed gay transgender blind person to have any rights at all……………..these losers out there need to get a life. What a crappy way to re-invent life to suit ones own personal wants!

Wondering Allowed

September 28th, 2012
10:16 am

BTW, any father or daughter who needs a dance to validate their relationship is in need of serious help. Children with a living father in their lives already have an advantage. They already have memories. They already have opportunities for bonding. Why rub that in the faces of the other children? What need is there for having the school provide another opportunity for those who already have so much, when it can hurt those children who already lack that person in their lives? It just doesn’t make sense to me that so many people are so selfish and can only see things through their own suburban picket fence Leave it to Beaver lens.

If a father daughter dance is so important, have it at your church, house or rented social hall. Do not make it a school event, where children from different family circumstances will be left to feel bad.

RCB

September 28th, 2012
10:17 am

Was there was NO MALE whatsoever in this child’s life that could have taken her? Maybe that’s the problem. So….one parent has the power to discontinue the dance for everyone? That’s the kind of parental involvement we don’t need.

southpaw

September 28th, 2012
10:27 am

Legislators and other government officials have made lots of rules. This illustrates why most of them need exceptions every now and then. The ACLU solved a problem that never existed. Although the federal government certainly makes its share of mistakes,the exemption for father-daughter and mother-son events isn’t one of those mistakes. Suggestion to the Rhode Island legislature: Amend state law to match the exception in federal law.

Once Melissa attended the dance with her daughter, a reasonable solution had been found. That should be the end of the story.

Wondering Allowed

September 28th, 2012
10:28 am

@RCB – Yeah, because the child who shows up with her uncle when all the other kids are there with a father is going to feel just like the other kids. Right. The child with the non-father will feel as though there is a bumper sticker on her behind, a tattoo on her forehead and a talking neon sign flashing directly behind her reminding the world that she doesn’t have a father. Worse, the other kids will be whispering to one another asking who the man is with Fatherless Frannie. Why, in the name of all that is good, would anyone want to put an innocent child, who has already been blamelessly given an unfortunate circumstance, into that position?

Wondering Allowed

September 28th, 2012
10:30 am

There shouldn’t have to be a law or rule for this. Thinking, caring, compassionate, intelligent adults should never be planning these exclusionary events in the first place. They should think of others. They should know better. They should voluntarily act correctly. They shouldn’t need public validation of their relationships, especially at the expense of others.

It’s a shame the government has to be asked to step in and enforce what should be common decency, but it’s a good thing we have a court system that can do this.

Why not make orphans wear scarlet “O”s on their clothes?

Pompano

September 28th, 2012
10:33 am

@Wondering Allowed makes a good point. Since many fathers choose to abandon their daughters, it’s not really fair that some of us choose to stay engaged and support our kids. It would be better if all of us ignored our kids and left it up to the Public School System to bring them down to the same level.
A Father/Daughter dance is outright evil and the Public Schools should not be taking steps to encourage the involvement of parents.

Nikki7

September 28th, 2012
10:38 am

Interesting……..my daughters school does alternate events, one year there is a father-daughter dance and a mother-son “hoe-down” and the alternate year there is a mother-daughter tea and a father-son sports event.

Atlanta Mom

September 28th, 2012
10:44 am

“the dance was done after school hours under the auspices of a parent organization”
I’m surprised the parent organization is not being sued.

Wondering Allowed

September 28th, 2012
10:50 am

@Pompano – You are confusing the choices made by fathers with the pain inflicted on children. I am very much in favor of publicly shaming the fathers, and don’t care about how they feel. On the other hand, the child had no part in the decisions made, let alone children without parents who had a parent die. The pain of father/daughter evens falls on the innocent children without parents, not the absentee parent who will never even know about the event and already doesn’t care. Why would anyone advocate hurting those innocent children even more, especially for an unneccesary dance?

Atlanta Mom

September 28th, 2012
10:50 am

Our elementary school used to have “grandparents lunch” and realized it was insensitive to children with grandparents who were unavailable/deceased. Now they have a special friends lunch. And all the children can have somebody there.
Seems like the same thing should be applied here, Dad or other adult male. That’s what the Girl Scouts do.

Wondering Allowed

September 28th, 2012
10:54 am

BTW, I’m curious – how many of those advocating father/daughter dances lost a parent when young?

Wondering Allowed

September 28th, 2012
10:57 am

@Atlanta Mom – Agreed!

I have been the “special friend” at such an event. My friend’s child’s grandparents could not make it into town, so I watched class performances, visited the classroom and drank punch while looking at diaramas. Some kids did have grandparents there, others had aunts, uncles, older siblings, etc. No child was made to feel different just because they didn’t have that certain relative in his/her life.

All the fun, none of the singling out.

DeKalb Teacher

September 28th, 2012
10:59 am

The father/daughter dances I have attended were held at the school and attended by 75% fathers and 25% mothers. Everybody loved it from the feedback I received.

Denise

September 28th, 2012
10:59 am

Wondering Allowed makes a lot of good points. It does suck to be excluded because of circumstances out of your control. It is not a child’s fault that he/she has no mother or father in the home. (I disagree that having these parents automatically makes good memories. Abuse or abandomnet is often the reason for the absence.) However, everybody cannot participate in everything, ever. Period. If they are concerned that all combinations are not covered, make a mother-daughter and father-son event. Again some will be left out but everybody will be covered in some form or fashion. But let’s be honest…there are always some who will not participate even when they “fit” the demographic AND you cannot please everyone so trying to doesn’t make any sense. Hell,what if there is a dance for honor roll students those who don’t make the honor roll cannot attend? Or a dance just for the band or the athletes? Will there be a push for that (made-up) dance to be cancelled because it’s exclusive and it makes those who can’t go feel bad?

Really amazed

September 28th, 2012
11:01 am

What about the father/mother that lost their daughter to a death??? Should they NOT be allowed to dance at one of these dances with their other daughter???? It isn’t always the child that misses out. Parents lose children too!!

Van Jones

September 28th, 2012
11:02 am

Wondering Allowed, you’ve gone off the deep end.

AlreadySheared

September 28th, 2012
11:03 am

As long as young men continue to enroll in college in significantly higher numbers than women, we need to keep having events like “take your daughter to work day” to decrease disparate gender opportunities.

Really amazed

September 28th, 2012
11:04 am

Why couldn’t they just call it a dance for student and a special someone in their lives. Some have two moms. Some have two dads. Some have just a mom or just a dad. Some have a grandparent. Some have a brother or sister that could maybe come.

dc

September 28th, 2012
11:05 am

sad to see all suffer because of the situation of a few…. and happens all the time. how selfish can a person be who says “because in my situation this event isn’t possible for me to enjoy, I want to take it away from the vast majority of those who can enjoy it”.

Again, what an amazingly self focused attitude. wow.

Wondering Allowed

September 28th, 2012
11:07 am

@DeKalb Teacher – so why should it even be called a father/daughter dance? Those children who attended with their mothers likely each had a moment where they had to think about the fact that their father wasn’t there. Why not just call it a “Special Person’s” dance, or a “Friends and Relatives” prom? Same idea, same result, no labels that can hurt.

William Casey

September 28th, 2012
11:10 am

Atlanta Mom makes a reasonable suggestion.

Single Mom

September 28th, 2012
11:10 am

I am a single Mom to two internationally adopted daughters. We recently relocated to a small southern town. I was appalled that our school chose to have events such as the Father-Daughter dance. My parents are deceased, and while I have two brothers who adore their neices, they live in other states/countries and were unable to escort the girls. I have to agree with “wondering allowed” that these types of events single out children who just want to fit in and be like their friends. Why can’t these events be labeled as “Atlanta Mom” suggests – with Someone Special. That way, family members, neighbor or Mom can attend with the child?

Wondering Allowed

September 28th, 2012
11:11 am

@dc – what suffering would a child unable to attend a dance labeled father/daughter have? Even if there is the slightest tinge of thought, isn’t that much less than the suffering of a child who doesn’t have a father who must be reminded of this every day up until the dance, and probably beyond?

Talk about selfishness… the “I need a father/daughter dance even if it hurts the feelings of the girl whose father died” seems to take the cake. Holy selfishness Batman! Really???? The person who doesn’t care about the classmate without a parent is the one being victimized? Are people really so in love with the smell of their own stuff that they have lost the ability to understand it’s stench?

Wondering Allowed

September 28th, 2012
11:13 am

@AlreadySheared – Cancel the “Bring Your Daughters to Work” day festivities. Every year since the early nineties, more women than men have enrolled in college. And graduated from college. For more info: http://www.prb.org/Articles/2011/gender-gap-in-education.aspx

david

September 28th, 2012
11:16 am

The descrimination claim doesn’t come from the parental gender … they will usually allow either to show based on circumstances. The CLAIM come from the childrens gender, having to explain to Jane why she can’t go but Johnny can, or v-v.
But what I don’t understand is why we can’t explain to them and admit outloud that there’s a difference between the sexes.

DrKEdD

September 28th, 2012
11:20 am

I was going to post on how this is such an insignicant point and that the legislators should concentrate on more impportant issues. But in reflection, this is the ONLY type of legislative decisions that I want elected officials to make on behalf of education…whether or not we have a dance and what the theme should be…and should the napkins match the toilet paper…will do these pants make my butt look fat. So, please, encourage the legislation to continue making such landmark legislation! LOL…and leave the rest of the process to professional educators. HA HA!

Pompano

September 28th, 2012
11:20 am

This is much bigger than Rhode Island – it’s a national problem. We must support the ACLU in eliminating Father’s Day as well. Many Fathers are unworthy or unavailable to be honored. It’s not fair that some children are able to enjoy the pride of two loving supportive parents while others cannot.

Perhaps the labels “Mother” and “Father” are discriminatory as well. We should probably adopt a more generic term (Breeders ?/?so as not to stigmatize some individuals.

Tinkerella

September 28th, 2012
11:26 am

These things are not needed. They can be held for everyone. By all means, if your community wants to have an exclusivity event, have it somewhere else. There are too many children who have lost a parent or are in difficult family situations that do not need additional burdens. I think this is where adults with little feeling for those children need to look at the bigger picture and have events more conducive to everyone’s involvement and where everyone feels welcome.

Wondering Allowed

September 28th, 2012
11:28 am

@Pompano – You do realize Fathers Day and Mothers Day were commercially created to spur sales of knick-knacks and greeting cards, rather than being government sanctioned holidays, like Memorial Day or Christmas, right? While those without a parent might feel bad they are not forced into spending money on flowers or jewelry in celebration of this corporate marketing ploy, the adult in a child’s life can manage Mothers Day or Fathers Day in a way that cannot be done with a school sponsored event mentioned daily in the classroom in which all the other kids are participating.

Tom B

September 28th, 2012
11:39 am

Wondering Allowed, are you for or against the “everybody gets a trophy” rule in place with the latest generation?

Maude

September 28th, 2012
11:40 am

No!!!!!! You are always leaving some child out in the cold crying!!

My goodness...

September 28th, 2012
11:52 am

Another absolutely critical issues to address in public education today….geesh…

Ole Guy

September 28th, 2012
11:55 am

This looks like yet another stab at the touchy feely educational experience which the gurus are cooking up in the wild; aimless attempt to capture long-lost relationships of long ago. Let’s face on of today’s hard-to-swallow facts…the family cohession of the Waltons is gone, probably never to return, at least not in my lifetime, nor that of the readership. We often like to think we can return to the nostalgic (sic) innocence of a simpler time; a time when, among other things, the family unit was strong. Unfortunately, we have advanced (if you care to attribute “advance” to a good thing) to a socio-economic point where this is, on the grand scales of yesteryear, simply not realistic. Besides, during the years of my mis-spent youth, Mom and Dad were the last people I wanted to be around during those “exploratory years” when these social events: dances/soc hops and the like were times when we could, like tenuous sharks, circle the chicks in hormone-raging curiosity…whonhell wanted Mom and Dad in the middle of that (no overly psuedo-religous replys)?

SouthGaTeacher

September 28th, 2012
11:56 am

Wow, as someone who has a dead beat dad that was never around, I never felt shamed, or left out, or any of those things when my friends had their father/daughter activities. I was happy for them. Why should we punish those dads that stay around and raise their children? I’ve even had a friend’s dad include me in one such activity. I also had a grandfather and several uncles that would have been more than happy to go with me to father/daughter dance. I refused, choosing instead to have a mother/daughter day with my mom. I just think that people have gone crazy and are looking for anything to cause a problem. By the way, I’m redheaded and I’m personally offended at Ronald McDonald. I feel like he is making fun of my genetic mutation and making a profit to add insult to injury. Who wants to take my case?

high school teacher

September 28th, 2012
11:59 am

The dance is held after hours. It’s not during the school day, so let them have the danceI have attended the mother-son dances at the elementary school the past 7 years with both of my boys. A close friend of mine is raising her grandsons because their parents were killed in an auto accident. She takes the boys to the mother-son dance even though she is the grandmother. Do they feel different? Yes they do, but they feel different every day of their lives. They feel different every year in April when the class makes Mother’s Day crafts for moms and they don’t have one anymore. Should we stop every activity that emphasizes the relationships between parents and their children because some children don’t have parents? My friend’s grandsons have a rough time, but they are learning to cope. Shielding children from feeling uncomfortable or from feeling different does not prepare them for adulthood.

Entitlement Society

September 28th, 2012
12:01 pm

So the ACLU prohibits single sex events, but it’s fine for single race organizations like the NAACP to exist? Seems like double standards to me.

Wondering

September 28th, 2012
12:02 pm

My ex-wife and I spent the better part of ten years in court so I could see my kids. My daughter insisted on my presence at her Father-Daughter dance in fifth grade. It was the first time in her young life that she stood up for her right to see me. You would deny me that experience?

We each have our crosses to bare, and a child missing a parent needs support. They already know their situation. A Father-Daughter dance doesn’t bring on the pain. It is the insensitive manner in which people handle the situation that causes hurt feelings.

BTW, do we also eliminate chorus because some people are tone deaf? Sports due to the handicapped? My, my, how we see the world only through our own lense.

Lee

September 28th, 2012
12:04 pm

Meanwhile….

This country is spending itself into bankrupcy, we have tens of millions of foreign invaders waltzing across our borders, thousands of our sons and daughters have been killed in a foreign land in a neverending war, but the newsworthy story of the day is some Prius driving, Starbucks drinking “mom” gets offended and runs to the Amerikan Communist Loon Union because her daughter might get her feelings hurt.

There, I feel better now.

Hillbilly D

September 28th, 2012
12:08 pm

Fortunately, I learned at a very early age that life is filled with disappointments. I also learned that you deal with it and move on.

This is political grandstanding over a non-problem. Some folks will do just about anything to see their name in the paper, evidently.

mom of 3

September 28th, 2012
12:14 pm

This is all so silly. If all school activities that made a child feel bad were cancelled, there would be no more school activities. All children, at one time or another, feel left out. If mom or dad cries foul every time their child has her/his feelings hurt, the child will never learn to handle their hurt feelings.

Wondering Allowed

September 28th, 2012
12:32 pm

@Tom B – Very much against. Very different situation. Competition encourages individual or group achievement. It doesn’t stigmatize based on an already unfortunate situation.

Rockerbabe

September 28th, 2012
12:40 pm

The simplest thing to do, would be to have parents host the dance and let all the kids come. That way, no one is left out and no one is stigmatized. 50% of marriages in the country end in divorce, so that + kids who live with just one parent, need to have consideration. Growup folks, families have changes and so must the schools and their activities.