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LIVE: School Committee Father Daughter Dance Meeting

Will the School Committee pass a resolution asking state leaders to allow father/daughter dances under certain conditions? Find out as we update this story in real time.

The father-daughter dance saga is on the docket tonight at the School Committee's meeting at Western Hills Middle School.

The committee is set to discuss a resolution calling upon the local delegation to submit legislation to change state law to allow father-daughter and mother-son dances under certain conditions.

6:41 p.m. The School Committee has emerged from executive session.

6:47: p.m.: Superintendent Judith Lundsten starts the meeting with a detailed explanation of what actually transpired at the beginning of the school year.

Some facts; no dance was never cancelled. The policy had been no gender-specific events for years. Over the years, that apparently "got lost" after turnover at some elmentary schools. There have been some dances that appear to violate state law.

Last spring, a parent complained about a "me and my guy" dance. At no time was anyone not permitted to attend the dance. In prior years, it had always been a family dance that anyone could attend. After then-Superintendent Peter Nero received a letter from the ACLU stating that the school was in violation of the law by holding a gender-specific dance. The school district's lawyers agreed with the analysis. The point is that even though anyone can attend 

When Lundsten took over the Superintendent job in August, she wrote the memo regarding gender-specific events. That was the end of the issue until it first came up in the news last week.

6:55 p.m.: Superintedent Peter Nero is here. He says father-daughter/mother-son dances were banned about 10 years ago. 

Family dances were "never eliminated and sporatically continued" for a period of time.

The elimination of gender-specific events "had no effect on my students" nor does he ever recall any public outcry like we're seeing now, Nero said.

Nero explains in detail how the ban on gender-specific events has been in place for years and years, using examples throughout his career in the city. In recent conversations with school leaders both in Rhode Island and Connecticut, Nero said nobody has gender-specific events that violate state law.

7:02 p.m.: Resident Jeannine Spaziano (check spelling) said she got a flyer stuffed in her mailbox that came from the Republican City Committee and the funny thing about it is it targets only select committee members who have spoken out for the schools. She said the issue is being used for political purposes and calls it "political grandstanding."

"I wonder why a few select have been targeted," she said. "Could it be about Fung not getting his charter school in Cranston? Could it be about raising visibility for certain candidates?"

7:08 p.m. Lisa Gargaro, parent, said she wishes more parents were here tonight to show their support for the resolution. At Orchard Farms, they've had sweetheart dances, ladies' choice dances and never had any issues. Taking them away from the students is unfortunate, she said.

"We've had mothers take their daughters to the dances and noone complained," she said. "Our children already have had so much taken from them."

7:13 p.m. Lizbeth Larkin, president of the Cranston Teacher's Alliance, speaks. She says it's "despicable" that the Republican party is "using our students for political posturing and it's a discredit to the committee because they are trying to discredit you in a political season" Larkin said towards the School Committee.

Larkin said the district can ill-afford any more legal fees. Instead of pressuring the mayor on an issue like this, she said, people should pressure the mayor to release the school district from its shackles and forgive its debt.

7:22 p.m. Nadine McAllister of the Stadium School PTO says nobody meant to hurt anyone in the community. The school had family dances for about 9 years and the father-daughter dance idea was an effort to switch things up and do something different.

"It gets expensive for some families of six or eight come to a family dance and spend $200 or more," she said. "We did this for the parents that asked. A large amount of our community asked for this."

McAllister said she wanted to make it publicly known that they did have a mother-daughter and father-daughter dance that were cancelled because of the ACLU letter.

7:25 p.m.: Suzanne Arena tells the school committee they're doing the right thing with the resolution and wonders why it wasn't brought up at a School Committee meeting before this so the public was made aware of it. 

Arena said she grew up without parents, and so she didn't go to a father-daughter dance, but that doesn't mean she doesn't see the tradition's value. 

"I watch my ex-husband take my daughter and she is tickled," Arena said, noting that it doesn't have to be labeled father-daughter, mother-son, etc.

7:29 p.m. School Committee Member Janice Ruggieri says she wishes corrected infromation could travel as fast as misinformation seems to go. The committee is eager to get back to work and move past the political posturing and misinformation, she said.

The issue "became muddy" when a parent posted things that weren't correct on Facebook, Ruggeri said. That information was widely disseminated. The fact of the matter is that this isn't an ACLU issue, she said. 

"It's a state law issue," she said. "We were in violation of state law."

Ruggeri blasts the flyer that was sent out and says quotes attribute to her were cut and pasted and misrepresented her. She said she would not want to be represented by someone who distributes something like that flyer.

7:38 p.m.: Frank Lombardi said the law is clear on this and Lundsten "did her job" handling this issue. The memo in August was just one part of an larger amount of correspondence between her and the faculty. He suggests this issue has been politicized and used inappropriately.

Lombardi said anyone who watched the prayer banner debate should know where he stands on tradition and values. But the state law is specific and explains that this isn't really a matter of the district or any one person banning father-daughter dances. Instead, the district is adhering to state law prohibiting them. Fedeal law, Lombardi said, allows for father-daughter dances if there is a comparable mother-son dance on a different night. That's where state law can be changed.

7:43 p.m. Stephanie Culhane raises that point — this isn't a matter of Cranston "banning" father-daughter dances. They've been against state law for years and Cranston has been following the law. This is an issue "fabricated" by people with an agenda for their own purposes.

Culhane also mention the flyer and said she is misquoted, it contains falsehoods and fabrications. She said the School Committee has been unfairly blamed for the issue.

7:47 p.m. Committee member Paula MacFarland said when she bcame a School Committee member she made an oath to uphold the laws of the state and the city. 

As School Committee members, "we are here to include all and exclude none" she said.

She will support the resolution, she says. She has a picture of he daughter from 20 years ago. He daughter had the chance to enjoy the tradition and it was a wonderful thing. 

But, MacFardland said, she imagined herself as a single mother today in 2012 and wondered what it would be like if she didn't have that special person in her life to go with her daughter. 

7:51 p.m.: School Committee Member Michael Traficante said he laments the loss of traditions over the years and said traditional values have long been victims of the ACLU. 

7:53 p.m.: School Committee Member Steven Bloom said he supports Lundsten's actions regarding the issue, he supports the resolution and supports the idea of inclusiveness.

7:55 p.m.: School Committee Member Andrea Iannazzi said family involvment is a key part of a successful school district and the PTOs do important work to bring those values to the table.

As the youngest on the School Committee, Iannazzi said she has fresh memories of going to a father-daughter dance, including one year when her father was serving in Iraq, so she went with her uncle. She never felt excluded or out of place.

Iannazi said the School Committee is moving as fast as possible with tonight's resolution. 

7:59 p.m. The resolution passes unanimously.

Check first thing tomorrow for a full story on tonight's meeting. A lot more was said than what we reported here in this live blog.

Bobbie September 25, 2012 at 12:31 AM
I guess I should have came and shared my story.. Two years ago at George j Peters I had asked to take my daughters to their sweetheart dance, BUT wan denied cause I'm a woman and they didn't have a male figure to bring them..........My little girls were devastated ! Maybe someone should hear my story sense it's the kids that were truly affected and will continue to be until they reach middle school......
Sean P Gately September 25, 2012 at 01:55 AM
I would like to thank the School Committee for passing the resolution tonight to help the process of restoring the long held tradition of Father Daughter Dances and Mother Son events in our city.
Suzanne Arena September 25, 2012 at 12:44 PM
Nice job giving the details Mark. I had to leave due to childcare issues and I was glad to see all that you captured. I checked with some of the parents on my street about that Republican Committee propaganda smear flyer, and I was the ONLY one who got it. Perplexing. Sean, I agree with you.

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