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R.I. School System: Dad-Daughter Dances Violate Law

Tuesday, Sep 18, 2012  |  Updated 5:24 PM CDT
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School System: Dad-Daughter Dances Unlawful

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A Rhode Island schools superintendent has ended the district's father-daughter dances and mother-son ballgames to comply with a state gender discrimination law, prompting some to complain that the move is an example of political correctness gone awry.

Cranston Mayor Allan Fung said Tuesday he was "utterly disappointed" that the Cranston schools superintendent nixed the events in what the mayor called "the name of political correctness" after the state affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union complained last spring.

The ACLU complaint in May came on behalf of a single mother whose daughter had no father in her life but was precluded from attending the father-daughter dance, ACLU Executive Director Steven Brown said Tuesday.

In a letter to school organizations last month, Schools Superintendent Judith Lundsten said that school district attorneys reviewing the complaint found that, while federal gender discrimination laws exempt such events, Rhode Island law does not.

"I acknowledge that many of these events have long traditions and for many parents, these types of gender-based events are not an issue," Lundsten wrote. "However, this is a public school system and under no circumstances should we be isolating any child from full participation in school activities and events based on gender. Please be all-inclusive when planning your events."

A message left Tuesday for Lundsten was not immediately returned.

School Committee Member Andrea Iannazzi said the committee will consider at a Monday meeting a resolution asking the General Assembly to change state law to allow the events.

Brown told The Associated Press that gender-specific events are not appropriate and commended the school system for banning them. He also noted that the Cranston events play to gender stereotypes -- dances for girls and baseball games for boys.

"Not every girl today is interested in growing up to be Cinderella -- not even in Cranston," Brown said in a statement later. "In fact, one of them might make a great major league baseball player someday."

On Monday, Sean Gately, a Republican running for state Senate, criticized the district decision, calling gender-based events, including the mother-son baseball games, important traditions. Gately's political opponent, Democrat Frank Lombardi, is a school committee member.

Gately on Tuesday said his wife was looking forward to taking their 7-year-old son to the sporting event. He called the superintendent's decision "complete political correctness run amok" and said he is seeking a legislative fix.

A message left for Lombardi was not immediately returned.

The city's mayor said he has been flooded with calls from angry parents about the ban.

Earlier this year, Cranston also was the site of an emotionally charged, months-long battle over a prayer banner at a local high school. The banner was ruled unconstitutional and ordered removed by a federal judge after a lawsuit was filed by the ACLU on behalf of a student-atheist at the school.

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