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Father-Daughter Dances Stopped In Cranston After ACLU Complaint

At least one East Greenwich school has held "girls night out" and "boys night out" events for the past several years to avoid an issue.


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.

Sharon Siedliski September 19, 2012 at 01:13 AM
At Cedar Hill we have a special night for girls and a seperate night for boys. Our "Father-Daughter Dance" was changed to "Sweetheart Dance" -girls can attend with a grandfather, uncle, etc if they are unable to attend with their father. The boys event is with their moms (or again, a grandmother, aunt, etc) and the past few years it's been held at Healthtrax for a sports oriented theme.
Elizabeth McNamara (Editor) September 19, 2012 at 01:48 AM
Thanks Sharon!
EG Resident September 19, 2012 at 02:31 AM
The impetus for the Cranston problem was Carolyn Mark, EG resident and head of RI's NOW Chapter. She is also running for EG School Committee. There is now room on the School Committee for this type of divisive single-purposed thinking. She has lost three votes in this household. Regards, Cinderella (Steve Brown's term, not mine)
Elizabeth McNamara (Editor) September 19, 2012 at 02:59 AM
EG Resident, Can you explain your accusation? Are you suggesting Carolyn Mark wrote the letter?
Angel September 19, 2012 at 11:39 AM
As a mother of 2 boys..I felt shut out from the special Father daughter dances they would have at Hanaford..So we starting having Mother Son events..And as Frenchtown did, we began wording the events to say, "Bring your favorite Mom, Aunt, grandma or special friend" after a father called to state that his child wanted to be included, but didnt have a mother in the picture..To simply ban all events in Cranston rather than look for alternatives is close minded and unfair to the kids.
Carolyn Mark September 19, 2012 at 12:49 PM
Hi EG Resident and all, Let me just say where I’m coming from on this issue: It’s not that I don’t think that fathers and daughters shouldn’t have opportunities to go to school dances together. I think that can be a lovely thing. But, I don’t think events should be framed in such a way as to make children feel uncomfortable if they don’t come from a traditional family and have no father to bring to the dance. That’s all. It matters what we call these things. I think East Greenwich has done a good job moving in the direction of being increasingly inclusive in these types of events. All communities may occasionally, unintentionally, do things that don’t make everyone feel welcome, but we learn from these experiences and grow stronger as a community when we do. I do also believe that, in a public school setting, we need to be careful that we don't foster gender stereotypes in the types of events we hold for our children. We have boys that like to dance and girls that like to bowl. Let’s celebrate that! (BTW, this was not at all on my mind when I decided to run for school committee. My primary concern is making sure our kids get a great education.)
JavaJen September 19, 2012 at 01:55 PM
I agree that EG has done a great job of evolving with the times with their "Girls' Night Out" and "Boys' Night Out" events. It doesn't seem that complicated - just make the events more inclusive so more kids can enjoy them.
Angel September 19, 2012 at 01:59 PM
Again, its all about the organization of the event...We held a "Dance" with the boys, at Hanaford..Didnt just go bowling or participate in a Sports event..It was a rock and roll theme..and everyone had a blast..This ruling has taken us away from any decision making and fun events for the kids because a few narrow minded adults are being overly senstive in the defense of "Traditional famillies"...Events for the past 7 plus years have been supportive of all types of families..
Cheryl O. September 19, 2012 at 02:32 PM
Why does it have to be so divisive to be inclusive? Surely, the Cranston School Department could have come up with different wording, so the events could continue. It sounds like they attempted to do so, but the parent would not accept them. Shame on the parent, in my opinion. It is a slippery slope. If individuals continue to call the ACLU in to fight these battles, I am scared to see what will become of public education. Carolyn, I am a potential supporter of you, but I would like to have more details on your exact role in this controversy. Thank you.
JavaJen September 19, 2012 at 03:04 PM
It depends what the Cranston School Dept proposed, which we can't tell from this article. All it says is "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." If they proposed that the child could bring any relative or close family friend (like at Frenchtown), and the parent responded by calling the ACLU, then I agree with you that it seems like an overreaction.
Gita Pensa September 19, 2012 at 03:56 PM
I normally do not leave comments on articles, but I do want to say this: Carolyn Mark would be a tremendous addition to our school committee. She is intelligent, thoughtful, and, most importantly, RATIONAL. She discussed this issue in a group setting last night, and I can assure you this is not any part of any conspiracy to destroy traditional values. 'Divisive single-purposed thinking' is just about the last phrase I would use to describe her. Carolyn has the backbone to stand up for what she believes is right, and she only does this after careful consideration of all sides of an issue. She is not afraid of challenging the status quo, and she'll put her name behind what she stands for, unlike some of her detractors (whom I am fairly sure were not going to vote for her in the first place, judging from the tone of the comment.) As for the rest of this brouhaha: it's 2012, people. When I was in junior high, there was a 'cotillion' held on my public school's property that was invite-only, just for white kids. (And if you don't know me, that meant I wasn't on the list.) I remember quite well how that felt. There was a very similar argument held back then about how it was a tradition, and because of that it was worth keeping just as it was. I wish Carolyn had been around back then to speak for me, in her rational, thoughtful way!
Nicole Somvanshi September 19, 2012 at 05:18 PM
I wholeheartedly agree with Gita! Carolyn is calm and thoughtful, and she always is respectful of both sides of an issue. In this case, she is just pointing out the law- in public school settings we cannot have gender exclusive events.
Carolyn Mark September 19, 2012 at 06:05 PM
Happy to respond! First, I agree with commenters who say this shouldn’t be so complicated. We can preserve our most cherished and fun activities while still being inclusive. Many schools are doing well on that front, including in EG. I learned of this issue in May after a family contacted the ACLU with concerns about feeling excluded from an event entitled “Me and My Guy.” The child had no adult male relative/friend to bring to the dance, and, while the mom was told she could come, she felt that her child would be uncomfortable being the only one without a guy. For years leading up to this, the school events HAD become inclusive. The reframing of the event this year was very troubling to this parent. I serve as president of RI NOW, which advocates for equality on behalf of women and girls. When I learned that a single mom was feeling excluded from an event that, perhaps unwittingly, was framed in a way that would preclude non-traditional families from feeling welcome at the event, it concerned me. It also concerned me that the events the school was planning for the kids were stereotypical – a dance for girls, a sporting event for boys. In my capacity with RI NOW, I felt it appropriate to join with the ACLU in asking the school district to remind the community that school-based events need to be inclusive, which they readily agreed to do. And BTW, no school has to cancel its dances - they just need to reframe events so that everyone feels welcome.
Cheryl O. September 19, 2012 at 09:05 PM
Thank you for your response, Carolyn. I appreciate it.
Elizabeth September 19, 2012 at 09:45 PM
It seems rash that Cranston would cancel all dances because of this, a simple event name change would seem to have been sufficient. As for the ridiculous comment that this is all the fault of Carolyn Mark, it smacks of sour grapes from the author, but also clearly written by someone who does not know Carolyn in person because she is the opposite of their characterization of her. We will be lucky to have Carolyn Mark on our school committee; she is a smart, fair, and kind person who cares deeply about the education of our children.

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