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.
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