When news broke that Cranston schools would no longer permit gender-specific events, such as father-daughter dances, the outcry was resounding. While some residents stepped forward and congratulated the administration on being sensitive to non-traditional families, the majority of complaints came from parents not willing to give up the tradition.
Cranston Senator Hanna Gallo (D-Dist. 27) is now speaking on behalf of those constituents, introducing legislation that would amend state law to permit such activities to take place.
“Events such as these dances are important traditions and we should be able to ensure that they can continue to be held without schools or school administrators running afoul of the law,” Gallo said in a release. “I don’t believe the intent of these events was ever to be overtly discriminatory, but we all have to live with the language of the law. This bill, if approved and enacted, should ensure that these events can continue without weakening our resolve to oppose discriminatory activities.”
Gallo could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
The bill, 2013-S 0012, has been referred to the Senate Committee on Education, which Senator Gallo chairs. It is co-sponsored by Senators Frank Lombardi (D-Dist. 26, Cranston), Erin Lynch (D-Dist. 31, Warwick, Cranston) and Daniel Da Ponte (D-Dist. 14, East Providence).
The legislation would amend state law to allow schools to “provide activities for students of one sex, including, but not limited to, father-daughter/mother-son activities, but if such activities are provided for students of one sex, opportunities for reasonably comparable activities shall be provided for students of the other sex.”
Prohibiting gender-specific events started in the spring 2012, in the wake of an issue at Stadium School. A parent there complained to the school’s parent organization that her daughter did not have a father to bring to the “Me and My Guy” dance. The group changed the name of the dance to be inclusive to any adult, but the ball was already rolling. The ACLU contacted the school department, alerting central administration of the law. Making a change seemed the only way to avoid litigation, and current Superintendent Dr. Judy Lundsten said at the time that the district’s legal counsel advised them that a challenge would likely be unsuccessful.
In June of 2012, then-Superintendent Peter Nero announced to district principals that any gender-exclusive events sponsored by schools conflicted with Rhode Island State Law.
Prior to the start of this school year, that news was relayed to PTO presidents. When parents caught wind of the controversy, the issue exploded, and Cranston was once again in the spotlight.
Lundsten concedes that too often, issues not relating to academics are the ones that get people involved.
“I would love to say that this position only deals with curriculum, assessment, programming and safety, but it doesn’t. On the other hand, we need to be open to hearing all concerns about all activities because we are a community,” she said.
With a potential resolution in sight, Lundsten is pleased that the issue could finally be put to rest.
“I certainly want to uphold the law, but I’m all for providing a wide variety of activities for all of our students,” she said. “I totally support this bill. I think traditions are important.”
Lundsten said she is “delighted” by the proposal, and added that she is especially glad to see a Cranston legislator leading the charge.
One of the vocal opponents of the change, referred to elsewhere as a ban on father-daughter dances, was former Senate candidate Sean Gately. In fact, it was Gately’s attention to the issue that started the firestorm of discussion. On the Herald Facebook page, the announcement of the policy change elicited well over 100 comments. The story ended up on talk radio, national news stations and beyond.
Gately’s own children go to private school, and were therefore not affected by the policy, but he called on the legislature to do something to reinstate the tradition for other Cranston families. When reached for comment Tuesday, just after Gallo announced her intentions, Gately said he was glad to see changes in the works.
“It’s greatly appreciated. Hopefully it contains the proper language to resolve it to allow these events to go forward,” he said. “There were hundreds of people in Cranston alone that were concerned about that. It’s an important tradition.”
School Committee Chairwoman Andrea Iannazzi is another proponent of the legislation.
“I am in complete support of Chairwoman Gallo's proposed legislation and will be introducing a resolution at our next meeting to support her efforts to re-introduce father-daughter dances to Cranston,” she said.