A Utah sixth grader and her family are challenging her middle school’s rules after she was not allowed to say “no” to a boy who asked her to dance on Valentine’s Day.
Azlyn Hobson was “thrilled and nervous” for the Valentine’s Day dance at Rich Middle School in Laketown in northern Utah’s Rich County, said her mother, Alicia.
"She was so excited for this dance. She was telling me about it for two weeks," Alicia Hobson said. "There was a boy at school she liked, she wanted to dance with him, she was going to have the best time ever."
Instead, Azlyn said, another boy asked her to dance — a boy that had made her uncomfortable in the past. So she said no.
Then the principal ran over to her.
“He was like, ‘You guys go dance. There’s no saying no in here,’” Azlyn recalled. The principal shooed them onto the dance floor for what Azlyn said was a painfully awkward partner dance.
"I just didn't like it at all," the 11-year-old said. "When they finally said it was done, I was like, 'Yes!'"
After Azlyn came home angry, her mother emailed Principal Kip Motta.
"She ALWAYS has the right to say no," Alicia Hobson wrote. "Boys don't have the right to touch girls or make them dance with them. They don't. If girls are taught that they don't have the right to say no to boys, or that saying no is meaningless, because they'll be forced to do it anyway, we will have another generation who feels that rape culture is completely normal."
Motta replied that students who are concerned about dancing with certain classmates should raise it with him before dances and he would be able to intervene, Hobson said.
"We want to protect every child's right to be safe and comfortable at school," Motta said in an interview. "We believe in that 100%. We also believe that all children should be included in activities. The reason for the policy as we have had it (in the) past is to make sure no kids feel like they get left out."
Motta said he and the superintendent were reviewing the policy this week. It’s an approach that other Utah schools have revisited in recent years. In 2018, Weber School District instructed all of its schools to eliminate requirements to accept dance partners after a parent complained when her daughter told her she was not allowed to decline a boy’s invitation to dance.
Motta, who is licensed to teach physical education, said he teaches social dances — box step, swing, western and line dancing, for instance — to the 125 middle schoolers at Laketown during their homeroom classes.
There are three school dances a year, he said, and the Valentine’s Day dance is during school hours.
At dances, songs alternate between girls’ choice and boys’ choice, Azlyn Hobson said. Students are required to ask when it’s their turn, she said, and to accept when asked.
The rule prevents students from setting their own boundaries with their classmates, Azlyn Hobson said; with fewer than 50 kids per grade, it’s hard enough to avoid unwanted interaction in the halls, she said.
Motta told the Hobsons that parents could excuse kids from school during a dance if they were uncomfortable dancing with classmates, Alicia Hobson said. But that puts the burden on any student who is getting unwanted attention.
“That would really be a shame because Azlyn loves these school dances, other than this one occasion when she had to dance with someone she did not want to have touching her,” Alicia Hobson said. “It’s harmful for kids to not have the right to say no. We teach them they don’t have to put up with any of that, and then we send them to school and they learn the opposite.”