Utah School District Changes Dance Policy That Parents & Students Said Didn’t Respect The Right To Consent
It's one thing to ask kids to bring a generic Valentine for everyone in their class, but it's quite another to require students to accept all dance invitations from their classmates. Weber School District has said it will change its policy that previously did not allow students to decline invitations to dance at school-sanctioned mixers after parents expressed concern that the rule was not sending the right message about consent, The Salt Lake Tribune reported. The change was initiated after a student came home and told her mom that she wasn't allowed to say no to a boy who asked her to dance during a Kanesville Elementary Valentine's Day. Bustle has reached out to the Weber School District for comment, but did not receive response at publication time.
UPDATE: In a statement to Bustle, the Weber School District in Utah confirmed their move to change the policy surrounding school dances. "In the best interest of our students, we are re-examining the procedures surrounding these dances and will make any necessary changes to promote a positive environment where all students feel included and empowered in their choices. 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. Although we still want to strongly encourage inclusion, kindness, and mutual respect, we feel this change will be of greater benefit to all students who choose to attend these dances."
EARLIER: The issue then went viral on social media, bringing attention to the potentially damaging message about everyone's right to consent that the policy may have been sending to students. With the growing #TimesUp and #MeToo movements, not allowing young girls to decline dance invitations from their peers sends a dangerous message, Julie Valentine, a nursing professor at Brigham Young University specializing in trauma and sexual assault related issues, told the Tribune. "I have significant concerns about what it teaches children about consent," she said. "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."
In a statement to CNN, Weber School District Community Relations Specialist Lane Findlay said the school is amending the policy that students must say yes to anyone who indicates they would like to dance with them. Before the dance each student is asked to fill out a card with the names of classmates they'd like to dance with. Per the old policy students were not allowed to decline. "In the best interest of our students, we are re-examining the procedures surrounding these dances and will make any necessary changes to promote a positive environment where all students feel included and empowered in their choices," the statement to CNN said.
While the policy was originally enacted to promote inclusion and kindness, according to CNN, it's had a number of unintended consequences. Parent Brittany Magera explained to the Tribune that her daughter had been harassed by a boy when she was nine, and the unwanted attention escalated to the point that police became involved. Not giving students the opportunity to decline invitations blurs the lines, she said. "That would be drilled into her head, coming from a teacher or a principal,” Magera told the newspaper. “It’s an authority figure saying you do not have a right to say no."
Dr. Douglas Goldsmith, executive director of The Children's Center, told news outlet Good4Utah that the policy is a mixed message for all students. "We've got to be very careful to not put the girls in a position to say 'yes' to a boy who has been teasing her relentlessly or bullying her at recess or in the classroom, doing stuff that the teacher is totally unaware of."
He went on to say that in the wake of the #MeToo movement, sending the opposite message to female students is dangerous. "It could be very possible that she's been harassed by a boy at school and she's very uncomfortable with this boy. He's done things to her in the hallway that she hasn't reported," Dr. Goldsmith told News4Utah. "I don't think this is taking into consideration an even more difficult piece, which is we're saying to boys, 'Whatever you say to girls, they're going to say yes to you.' And in today's world of sexual politics — that is a horrible, horrible message to give to the boys."
In addition to sending mixed messages about consent, other parents noted that requiring everyone to say yes isn't setting students up for success in other areas of the lives. "You should be able to say yes or no to anybody," Veronica Hardman, the mother of another six grader, told the Tribune.
Officials got the message, and released a statement that explained that the policy will be updated, the Washington Post reported. "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." Because, everyone deserves a choice.