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Father-daughter dances banned in R.I. as 'gender discrimination'

September 18, 2012|By Rene Lynch
  • Winston Bowman and his then 9-year-old daughter, Katherine, at a father-daughter dance in Woodland Hills in 2002. Such dances have been banned in Rhode Island because of the state's gender discrimination laws.
Winston Bowman and his then 9-year-old daughter, Katherine, at a father-daughter… (George Wilhelm / Los Angeles…)

Father-daughter dances and mother-son ballgames -- those cherished hallmarks of Americana -- have been banned in a Rhode Island school district after they were targeted by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The ACLU, the self-proclaimed guardian of the nation's liberty, says such events violate the state's gender-discrimination law. The organization challenged their existence following a complaint from a single mom who said her daughter was prevented from attending a father-daughter dance in the Cranston Public Schools district.

The story has created a furor both online as well as in Cranston, a community located south of Providence and considered one of the safest places in America.

The phones at Cranston City Hall were already ringing off the hook bright and early Tuesday morning when staffers unlocked the doors. The outrage prompted a reaction from Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, even though he has no control over the schools.

"I am utterly disappointed to have such a time-honored tradition under attack," Fung said in a statement that urged parents to turn their fury on the school district. "I implore the Cranston School Committee to review this decision and find a way to make this work for the children and their parents. I encourage all parents that are upset with this decision to contact their school committee members and make their voices be heard."

Oddly enough, the policy change was apparently made months ago but only came to widespread public attention on Monday. That's when Sean Gately, a candidate for state Senate, announced that he will seek to change the policy back if elected, according to the Providence Journal.

The newspaper said schools Superintendent Judith Lundsten told school organizations in an August letter that the district's hands were tied: Although federal gender-discrimination laws exempt such events, Rhode Island's law does not.

For its part, the ACLU scoffed at the uproar, calling the change "old news" and defending its legal position in a statement laced with a touch of snark. Here it is, in part:

"The controversy that has suddenly arisen in a political campaign over father-daughter dances in Cranston is old news -- the matter was amicably resolved with school officials over four months ago. And it was resolved for a simple reason: the school district recognized that in the 21st Century, public schools have no business fostering the notion that girls prefer to go to formal dances while boys prefer baseball games.

"This type of gender stereotyping only perpetuates outdated notions of 'girl' and 'boy' activities and is contrary to federal law.

"[Parent-teacher organizations] remain free to hold family dances and other events, but the time has long since passed for public school resources to encourage stereotyping from the days of Ozzie and Harriet. Not every girl today is interested in growing up to be Cinderella -- not even in Cranston. In fact, one of them might make a great major league baseball player someday.

"We commend the school district for its resolution of the matter, and are sorry to see some people turning it into a political football -- a game that they may think only boys should be interested in."

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