Schools would no longer need to be concerned that father-daughter or mother-son dances are contrary to the state’s gender discrimination laws as a result of legislation approved Friday by the Rhode Island Senate on a vote of 33 to 3.
Sponsored by Sen. Hanna M. Gallo (D-Cranston, West Warwick), the legislation, 2013-S 0012Aaa, will amend state law to provide that activities for students of one sex are permissible if reasonably comparable activities are provided for students of the other sex. The bill will make the language in state law comparable to the gender-specific exemption provided in the federal Title IX law concerning “reasonably comparable activities.”
The legislation will also require that schools notify students they may bring to an event any adult of their parents’ or guardians’ choosing.
The issue of gender-specific school activities erupted into controversy last year when the Cranston School Committee cancelled a father-daughter dance after the ACLU filed a complaint on behalf of the single-mother of a fourth grader, who was invited to a PTA-sponsored dance that directed her to bring “the adult male” of her choice.
“Events such as these dances are important traditions and we should be able to ensure that they can continue to be held without schools or school administrators running afoul of the law,” said Senator Gallo. “I don’t believe the intent of these events was ever to be overtly discriminatory, but we all have to live with the language of the law. This bill, if approved and enacted, should ensure that these events can continue without weakening our resolve to oppose discriminatory activities.”
The legislation was sent to the Senate floor after it was approved on a 5 to 1 vote in the Senate Committee on Education. The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Co-sponsors of the Gallo bill include Sen. Frank S. Lombardi (D-Dist. 26,Cranston), Sen. Erin P. Lynch (D-Dist. 31, Warwick, Cranston) and Sen. Daniel Da Ponte (D-Dist. 14, East Providence).