Sixth-graders will no longer be required to say “yes” when asked to dance at a Utah elementary school Valentine’s Day party that came under fire after a parent learned her daughter wasn’t allowed to decline boys’ invitations.
“We are re-examining the procedures surrounding these dances,” Lane Findlay, spokesman for the Weber School District, said in a news release. “We have advised our schools to eliminate any sort of language in the instructions surrounding these dances that would suggest a student must dance with another student.”
A parent of a sixth-grader at Kanesville Elementary in West Haven complained last week after her daughter told her she wasn’t allowed to say “no” if a boy asked her to dance at the school’s Valentine’s Day dance.
As word of the rule spread, some worried it undermines what kid should be learning about healthy relationships — especially in the age of #metoo.
“I have significant concerns about what it teaches children about consent,” said Julie Valentine, a nursing professor at Brigham Young University who specializes in trauma and other issues related to sexual assault.
“We have to teach very early that kids have bodily autonomy, that they have the ability to consent regarding activity, regarding what part of their bodies is touched.”
Veronica Hardman said her sixth-grade son planned to attend the Kanesville Elementary dance, set to take place Wednesday morning during school hours.
Because boys and girls both were required to ask each other to dance, and accept if asked, Hardman said she didn’t think the dance rule reinforced cultural norms that girls are unkind if they say no to a boy.
But Hardman also didn’t think the rule was a useful introduction to etiquette.
“You should be able to say yes or no to anybody,” she said. “Life is rejection. You do get rejected.”
School officials confirmed that students were given “dance cards” where they would write their partner preferences — half girls’ choice and half boys’ choice — and they were expected to accept every partner.
Findlay said the rules applied to “all students regardless of gender.”
The event is “voluntary but encouraged,” Findlay said. He said many of the district’s schools host Valentine’s Day dances after students learn line dances and other dances in their P.E. classes.
In previous years, Hardman said, parents have brought treats and taken photographs as students displayed the dances they had learned.
“Although these dances have been taking place for many years, it does raise some questions about the rule and the instructions that are given. We certainly understand the concern and would never want to promote a mindset where students don’t feel like they have the option to say no,” Findlay said.
Brittany Magera has a daughter and a nephew who are both sixth-graders in Salt Lake County. The boy, she said, would be “crushed” to be paired off unwillingly. The girl would internalize the message that “I have to say yes to guys.”
“That would be drilled into her head, coming from a teacher or a principal,” Magera said. “It’s an authority figure saying you do not have a right to say no.”
Magera said it was her younger daughter who startlingly illustrated the need for clear messages about consent when, at age 9, she began getting threats from a boy who wanted to be her “boyfriend” and wouldn’t take no for an answer. Police eventually got involved, Magera said.
”[Imagine ] she can’t say no if this guy asks her to dance,” Magera said.
The school’s goal was probably to ensure “that kids don’t get their feelings hurt or get offended,” Valentine said.
“But I think it does send the wrong message.”