Natalie Richard couldn’t believe it when her sixth-grade daughter told her that she wasn’t allowed to say “no” to boys who may ask her to dance at the Kanesville Elementary’s Valentine’s Day dance this year. In fact, the Utah mom was in such a state of disbelief that she told her daughter that she must have misunderstood her teacher’s instructions, according to Salt Lake City’s local Fox affiliate, KSTU.
When Richard followed up with her daughter’s teacher, however, she realized that her daughter had gotten it right. The public school in Weber County, Utah, was holding a Valentine’s Day dance, and if she attended, her daughter was not allowed to refuse to dance with any boy who might ask. She had to say yes.
“The teacher said she can’t. She has to say yes. She has to accept and I said, ‘Excuse me.'”
At that point, Richard’s disbelief turned into shock, and the Utah mom took her serious concerns about the rule to the principal. His response? That denying students the right and opportunity to say “no” to dance requests was the tradition at the school, and that no parent had ever expressed an issue with the policy before.
“He basically just said they’ve had this dance set up this way for a long time and they’ve never had any concern before.”
According to Weber School District, the shocking “no saying no” policy is, in fact, a rule. However, Lane Findlay explained that the reason for the policy is to teach inclusiveness, not to make girls feel as though they don’t have a choice. Findlay went on to explain that the rule against saying “no” to dance requests applies to both male and female students and is meant to promote a culture of kindness.
“Please be respectful, be polite. We want to promote kindness, and so we want you to say yes when someone asks you to dance.”
Not everyone agrees with Weber School District’s attempt to garner inclusiveness by squelching students’ rights to decide who can invade their personal space. Since the news of the Utah school’s “no saying no” dance policy went viral, many have taken to social media to share their concerns. Many were particularly appalled that a school would teach children that saying “no” is somehow impolite or exclusionary.
When speaking to local media, Natalie Richard had a similar opinion to those shared by many on social media. According to the Utah mom, the school’s dance policy is a “bad message” to girls and boys alike, teaching girls that they have to say “yes” whether they want to or not and teaching boys that girls will never say “no.”
“I do see it from their perspective when it comes to that, but there are many other ways to teach children how to be accepting than with a social dance…Sends a bad message to girls that girls have to say ‘yes’; sends a bad message to boys that girls can’t say ‘no.'”
According to the school, the process of asking and being asked to dance takes place well before the dance itself. Students are provided with “dance cards” ahead of the event, and on those cards, students list five people they want to dance with. As per the policy, students are not allowed to tell fellow students “no” if asked. However, school officials claim that students who feel “uncomfortable” with a name on their card are encouraged to “speak up.”
“If there is an issue, if there’s students that are uncomfortable or have a problem with another student, I mean: that’s certainly something that can be addressed with that student and parents.”
Weber School District also pointed out that the Valentine’s Day dance was a voluntary activity, but that participation was “encouraged.”
Since Richard brought her concerns about the Utah school’s dance policy to the attention of local media, changes have been made. As the Salt Lake Tribune reports, district spokesperson Lane Findlay says that students will no longer be banned from saying “no” when they are asked to dance by their peers.
“We are re-examining the procedures surrounding these dances. 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.”