Cranston Public Schools will no longer allow mother-son and father-daughter dances because school lawyers concluded the traditions violate state gender discrimination laws after the district received a letter from the American Civil Liberties Union, said Cranston Supt. Judith Lundsten.
The letter was written on behalf of a mother who said her daughter was unable to go to the father-daughter dance.
Federal laws under Title IX allow father-son and mother-daughter events but state law is more restrictive, Lundsten said.
In East Greenwich, Frenchtown School holds "Girls Night Out" and "Boys Night Out" events, according to Principal Cheryl Vaughn. The student is invited to bring a parent, grandparent or close family friend.
Cranston's Lunsten said, "We're following the letter of the law. We never thought it was harming anybody, nobody ever had any intentions of doing that nor did any parent organizations have any intentions of doing that."
Republican Sean Gately of Cranston, who is running for the state House Dist. 26 seat, issued a heated press release earlier today lambasting the school district.
In the release, Gately said his opponent, Cranston School Committee Member Frank Lombardi and his "school committee was asleep at the switch."
"Where is the 'Proven Leadership' I keep hearing about," Gately fired. "After already losing $150,000 of taxpayer money on the banner controversy, they made no effort to protect another important tradition enjoyed by generations of parents and children in the Cranston school system."
The change in policy occurred without any public discussion and the School Committee did not vote for any change. Gately said the issue could easily be fixed by inserting language in the state law that mirrors federal Title IX policy.
But school officials say it's not so simple. School Committee Member Janice Ruggieri said in an interview that Cranston isn't the first district in Rhode Island to ban father-daughter dances. Lincoln set that precedent.
Ruggieri said the decision to ban the dances was to comply with state law, which she said is very clear. According to state law, discrimination on the basis of sex is prohibited in admissions, the classroom, curriculum, athletics, counseling "and any other school function and activities."
"It's not a matter of local policy," Ruggieri said. "It's a matter of state law."
The School Committee has no authority to change state law and that's why it was never discussed at a committee meeting.
"I've heard from both sides and I understand people view this as a tradition. It's a thing my kids went to," Ruggieri said. "But it's also the state law."
Some Cranston parents are upset.
"I think it is sad. It is a lovely tradition," said Cristina Wilkinson Trainer, who said her husband has been fighting cancer for two years to be at his daughter's side at one of the dances "like he was for our older daughter."
The mother of the child reportedly approached her child's school with her concern. School officials said they tried to find an option for the parent without eliminating the dance, but she wasn't happy with any of the suggestions. It was then that she contacted the ACLU.