Published Dec. 15, 2021
BY EMMA BROWN
Funded by Carmel River School’s Parent Teacher Association, the Father-Daughter Family Dance and the Mother-Son Family Carnival have become traditions in recent years.
In October, though, a group of students created a petition to change the titles of the functions, explaining that events could exclude students with non-traditional family dynamics, but the PTA board ultimately decided that the names of the events will go unchanged, citing both the importance of the events in bringing families together and students’ enjoyment of the functions.
“Changing the names of the events changes the essence and purpose of them…” said the PTA board in an email to the River School community. “To advance one group’s own interests by potentially abolishing events cherished by hundreds of participants annually is simply wrong and not something we will support.”
Four fifth grade students at River School began the petition signed by more than 25 of their classmates to change the events’ titles to include all guardians and students, rather than only inviting a specific group.
“The dance should just be called the ‘River School Dance’ or ‘The Family Dance,’” suggests Gretchen Peelman, a fifth grader at River School. “We want everyone to be invited. The invites to the dance were only placed on girls’ desks. Maybe they could be on the boys’ desks too. And the same thing with the carnival.”
At a PTA meeting, the petitioners discussed how advertising the dance for girls with fathers and the carnival for boys with mothers could make students who lack a relationship with one of those figures feel uncomfortable.
“If a kid’s parent had died or decided to not be in their life, it would be hard for them to get an invitation and not be able or want to bring that parent,” Gretchen says.
While the primary motivation for changing protocols surrounding the dance was to be more inclusive to students who may not have a mother or father in their life, the fifth graders also discussed how the use of “daughter” and “son” contribute to restrictive ideas about gender.
“We also did this for the people who don’t identify as a gender and are struggling with how they see themselves,” says Chloe Ward, a River School fifth grader. “If they were born a girl and then they really want to be a boy, but they got the girls’ dance invitation, it will make them feel like they are forced to be a girl.”
After the students’ presentation, the PTA heard from members of the community on the issue with some parents expressing their hesitancy to change the events’ titles.
“There were a number of people who disagreed with us,” says Ilee Moses, a fifth grader at River School. “They said that their daughters loved the dance, and they don’t want it to change because they want quality time with their daughter. But if you want to spend time with your daughter, there’s other ways you can do it.”
Those in favor of maintaining the names of the events say it would be unfair to change the essence of the functions in order to accommodate a small portion of the community.
“Variety is the spice of life,” River School principal Jay Marden notes. “There is value in differences, and I’m afraid that when we start to eliminate these types of events, that the end result is going to be this homogenized sadness, if not uniform experience, because everybody is either so concerned or offended by the philosophy I just described. When you start to eliminate things because they’re offensive to a very small group of people, we’re not better for it as a society.”
Though invitations for the events will not be extended to all of the school community, members of the PTA say they are open to proposals for new functions and would be willing to sponsor a separate all-school event.
“We’re offering for them to come to us with a suggestion to add something that we would fund,” River School PTA vice president Melissa Anderson says. “Everything we’ve heard since we made our decision has been a lot of attacks and negativity, but nothing doing something that could help us come to an agreement.”
Although the names of the functions remain the same, the PTA board encourages students of all familial compositions to attend both the carnival and the dance.