Inclusion v. consent? Weber School District reevaluates policy on school dances

OGDEN (News4Utah) - The Weber School District is now re-evaluating their procedures surrounding school dances after a parent raised concerns about consent.

Lane Findlay, a spokesperson for Weber School District said many of their elementary schools host an annual 6th grade Valentine's Day dance. Participation is voluntary, but encouraged.

"Prior to the dance, all students receive instruction on proper etiquette and what's to be expected of them if they choose to participate. To encourage participation, students are given a dance card. This card has a certain number of lines on it where names can be written down," said Findlay.

Findlay said although participation in the event is voluntary, students are also told by their teacher that if a classmate asks to be on their card, they should be polite and respectful, and agree to dance with that person. This applies to all students regardless of gender.

Dr. Douglas Goldsmith, executive director of The Children's Center said this could send the wrong message to both girls and boys.

"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," said Dr. Goldsmith.

"The purpose behind this is to encourage more interaction between students and to promote an atmosphere of inclusion," said Findlay.

Dr. Goldsmith said he disagrees because this type of encouragement doesn't promote inclusion.

"We're not saying to adults to be inclusive. We actually know that's a really poor idea," said Dr. Goldsmith. "Inclusive means we're going to have a dance party. It doesn't mean we're going to ask you to dance. It means all of us are taking part in this activity together as a group."

With the recent #MeToo movement and conversations surrounding consent, Dr. Goldsmith said this kind of encouragement could be traumatizing to a student who's experiencing harassment from another classmate.

"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," said Dr. Goldsmith. "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."

District officials confirmed a parent recently raised concerns about students being told to say "yes" if asked to dance.

"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," said Findlay. "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."

He said this is a good opportunities for school officials to teach students about consent and respect.

"We need to teach the young men to actually say, 'Ok' and accept the young girls saying, 'No, I don't care to dance with you" and not belittle her and not be angry, and not bully her,'" said Dr. Goldsmith.

Findlay said they have advised their 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 dance," said Findlay.

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