Randy Paulhus lost his father when he was just 7 years old. He knows how important the child-parent relationship is, and that’s why he treasures time spent with his 8-year-old daughter, a student at Woodridge Elementary School.
A retired state trooper, Paulhus is a stay-at-home dad. His days revolve around his daughter. He picks her up from school, helps her with her homework and enforces the rules when necessary. So when she came home from school upset one day, he was upset too. She came bearing the news that father-daughter dances were no longer allowed under district policy.
She was sad, and Paulhus would do anything to fix that.
“She said, ‘Daddy, this is terrible,’ so I said, ‘Ok, don’t worry about it – we’ll have one,” he said.
“Daddy” came through. The Woodridge community’s Father-Daughter and Sweetheart Ball will take place next Friday, Feb. 15 at the Crowne Plaza in Warwick. Tickets are $20 and include two meal choices, and BP Entertainment, run by DJ Pete Kelleher – also a parent at Woodridge, will provide music at no cost. Lifetouch Photography will be there, and guests can pay to have professional photos taken like any other father-daughter dance.
Paulhus believes in what he’s doing. Soon to be 62 years old, he worries that he won’t be there for all of his daughter’s life milestones, and he wants every chance to dance with his little girl.
“I may not have a chance to dance with my daughter at her wedding. Every minute is special,” he said.
It does not appear as though everyone is as thrilled, however.
When Paulhus started his campaign to independently organize the dance, he decided to stop in and let the Woodridge principal know what was going on. Paulhus says she explained that gender-specific events are currently against district policy, to which he replied that the event would not be affiliated with the school or district. He said the conversation was cordial, and he went back outside to distribute flyers.
Moments later, a Cranston Police cruiser pulled up. The officer asked Paulhus what he was doing, and then went inside to talk to the principal. In the meantime, two other police cars arrived on the scene. Paulhus says he continued to pass out his flyers and told the officers he had no intention of leaving.
“You guys are going to have to get a court order to get me out of here,” he said.
When the original officer came back outside, he instructed Paulhus that he could pass out flyers as long as he stayed on the blacktop, away from the immediate entrance to the school. Paulhus thought the confrontation was over.
“I left and they left. I’m not trying to cause any problems,” he said. “I’m just doing this so the kids can have fun, and to make my daughter happy.”
Later that week, a friend of Paulhus – also a retired trooper – told him that he had gotten word about the dance and that Paulhus was at risk for being arrested. The Woodridge principal could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Paulhus served on the Rhode Island State Police for more than 25 years, and retired as a sergeant. His wife is a magistrate for the Family Court. He can’t think of what laws he would be in danger of breaking.
“You have a private party that’s coming forward to carry the ball and give the kids an opportunity, and they’re doing this to me?” he asked. “I wasn’t trying to rock the boat, however, I’m not going to be insulted and if they want the boat rocked, I’ll flip it over and see who can swim.”
Paulhus defended his decision to plan the Sweetheart Ball at last Wednesday’s School Committee meeting. At the meeting, the committee was discussing a resolution to support a bill introduced by Cranston Senator Hanna Gallo. Gallo’s legislation would amend the state law to allow for gender-specific events like father-daughter dances, provided there are opportunities for all students.
“I’m really surprised that you’re backing a father-daughter dance, when I’m having trouble putting one on myself,” he said to the committee. “If you think I’m trying to cause a problem for the school, you’re wrong.”
Superintendent Dr. Judy Lundsten says the district has no position on the Sweetheart Ball.
“Mr. Paulhus can certainly have any type of function he wants. It’s like me having a party at my own home,” she said.
The issue, she says, was that Paulhus was distributing flyers on school property. The district is currently revising its flyer policy to potentially discontinue hard copy flyers that are not generated by the schools themselves, PTOs or the city – instead allowing outside groups to distribute flyers only electronically. That change has been delayed at least until the start of school in September 2013.
Even under the old policy, though, she said the assistant superintendent must approve flyers.
“It’s been our practice in the past, for any flyer – it doesn’t matter what the flyer is – it would not be distributed on school grounds without it going through the appropriate channels,” Lundsten said.
The district has no plans to shut down Paulhus’ event, and as the final day approaches, he is ready to dance.
Paulhus opened a DBA account at Rhode Island Credit Union in order to put a deposit on the Crowne Plaza, where past father-daughter dances have been held. The per-person cost for the event is $19.60, and tickets are $20. Factoring in decorations, printing costs and favors, Paulhus is incurring some of the cost.
He says it’s worth it.
“My little girl means more to me than anything,” he said. “It’s not about the parents – it’s about the kids.”
To date, 52 children have signed up with their father or another adult guest. Paulhus is hoping to get more than 100 children there. From what he hears from his daughter and her friends, he thinks the event will be a blast.
“They’re all excited,” he said. “My daughter and all the other little girls at Woodridge who want to are going to go and have a great time. All I want is for the kids to have this opportunity.”Any Woodridge families interested in the Sweetheart Ball can contact Paulhus at email@example.com. Checks can be made payable to the Woodridge Community Father-Daughter and Sweetheart Ball. Please respond by Feb. 10.