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School Event Prioritizes “Inclusion” Over Consent, Insisting Students Say “Yes” When Asked to Dance

A slightly disturbing story came out of an elementary school in Utah yesterday, when news broke of a parent having issues with a bizarre rule that was being encouraged at a middle-school dance.

Natalie Richard, whose sixth-grade daughter attends Kanesville Elementary, took issue with the fact that when her daughter was told about an upcoming Valentine’s Day dance, the teachers told the 11 and 12 year olds that they had to say “yes” if someone asked them to dance. Richard was understandably concerned, and she went to the school to talk to them about it.

According to Fox 13 in Salt Lake City, when Richard asked her daughter’s teacher what the deal was, she says that “The teacher said she can’t. She has to say yes. She has to accept and I said, ‘Excuse me?'”

When Richard went to the principal, “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.”

There’s plenty of concern now, however. Once Fox 13 reported on the story, a bunch of angry parents commented on the post agreeing with Richard, who says that this rule “Sends a bad message to girls that girls have to say ‘yes’; sends a bad message to boys that girls can’t say ‘no.'”

Lane Findlay, Community Relations Specialist for the Weber School District of which Kanesville Elementary is a part, responded to Fox saying that the rule is meant to encourage being inclusive. “Please be respectful, be polite,” Findlay said. “We want to promote kindness, and so we want you to say yes when someone asks you to dance.”

I reached out to Justin Willie, Kanesville’s principal, asking if the rule would continue to be in place despite parent criticism, and if the rule applied to boys as well as girls. Findlay replied to me with a press release explaining the rule and how their dances generally work, as well as promising that the school is “re-examining their procedures.”

Here’s their official explanation of the dance situation:

“Each year, many of our elementary schools host a sixth grade Valentine’s Day dance. Participation is voluntary but encouraged.  Leading up to the event, students are taught certain styles of dancing like line dancing as part of PE, and these dances are incorporated into the Valentine’s dance.  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.  Students are instructed to select classmates to dance with and to write their names on the card.  Half of the selections are girl’s choice and the other half are boy’s choice, and students can’t dance with the same person more than once.  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. The purpose behind this is to encourage more interaction between students and to promote an atmosphere of inclusion.”

In response to the school’s rationale for having the rule, Richard said, “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.”

The Weber District statement goes on to say:

“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.”

There’s a key element missing in this lesson of “inclusion.” Teaching inclusion should include the idea that there are multiple points of view, personality types, and feelings about all sorts of things. Now, it’s great that the dances aren’t mandatory. So, for the kids who genuinely don’t want to be there, they don’t have to be.

However, for the kids that do go, they’re learning that all kids who choose to go to dances are the same, and have to act the same. Yet, some kids love dancing, others do not. Both of those things need to be okay. Some kids want to dance with others, some do not. That needs to be okay. And there are instances where kids enjoy dancing with others, but that doesn’t mean they’ll want to dance with every single person who asks, and that needs to be okay, too.

That’s inclusion: when no one is punished or ostracized for being who they are, or expressing a desire.

And look, I get it. I was the fat girl in middle school, and I was not the kid anyone would be thrilled about dancing with. Yes, my feelings were hurt by other kids, not necessarily because they actively made fun of me (though there was plenty of that), but because so often, especially in a “romantic” capacity, it was non-verbally made so clear that I was not someone the people I liked wanted to be seen with too often, lest people think we were together (oh no!).

We didn’t have a rule like this at school dances, but not only were the kids who made me feel bad never taught to include me, I was also never taught as a kid that everyone has a right to their feelings, and that someone’s lack of willingness to dance with me is about them, not about me. Left to my own devices with absolutely zero guidance in the matter, I internalized people’s lack of interest, and let it define my self-worth.

Imagine if all kids at that age were taught true inclusion, one that allowed for diversity of thought and personality type. What if these kids were taught that if someone you don’t want to dance with asks you to dance, they are being very brave and vulnerable and should be treated with kindness when you gently decline. Taught that if you ask someone to dance, and they say no, they have a right to their feelings and it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you, so you don’t have to insist. Just ask someone else.

It’s important that kids learn how to socialize and get along with each other. That doesn’t mean that they should be learning these lessons the way they’ve always been taught. Consent and politeness are not opposing forces. They exist very much hand in hand, whether one is on the receiving end, or the one doing the asking.

(via The Independent/MSN, featured image: screencap/Fox 13 Utah)

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Teresa Jusino (she/her) is a native New Yorker and a proud Puerto Rican, Jewish, bisexual woman with ADHD. She's been writing professionally since 2010 and was a former Mary Sue assistant editor from 2015-18. Teresa's returned to play in the TMS sandbox as a freelancer. When not writing about pop culture, she's writing screenplays and is the creator of your future favorite genre show. Teresa lives in L.A. with her brilliant wife. Her other great loves include: Star Trek, The Last of Us, anything by Brian K. Vaughan, and her Level 5 android Paladin named Lal.