Earlier in the school year, parents were notified that father-daughter and mother-son activities will no longer be held in Cranston Public Schools because school lawyers concluded the traditions violate state gender discrimination laws.
The action was triggered by a letter from the American Civil Liberties Union, said School Superintendent 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.
"We're following the letter of the law," Lundsten, a mother of two grown sons, said. "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, 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, 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."
Parents across the district are upset.
On our Facebook page, they chimed in:
"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."
"It's absolutely ridiculous. Another tradition taken away due to one loudmouth who just had to ruin it for everyone," said Lea Corona Parent.
"I am so disgusted by the city of Cranston and the school department," said Deanna Oster. "I think it is ridiculous that Cranston is once again getting rid of something for the few and punishing the many that enjoy this tradition. Some of the best memories I have with my dad is at these dances. My daughter has just a few years left in elementary school in Cranston and then it is adios Cranston."
Lundsten said if the law is changed, the district will follow suit "and make the appropriate changes."
The issue right now is a bit of a distraction for the district. Lundsten said every person who works in Cranston Public Schools has a lot on their plate.
"We'll move forward and do what we're supposed to do and that's follow the law," Lundsten said. "Hopefully the lawmakers listen to what the public has to say."
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.