Several months ago, the American Civil Liberties Union submitted a letter with a school district on behalf of a single mother “whose daughter had no father in her life but was precluded from attending [a] father-daughter dance [held by the school PTO group].” In a decision released on Tuesday, the superintendent of the Cranston, Rhode Island schools announced the end of father-daughter and mother-son activities “because of fears they are illegal under gender discrimination law.”
In 1972, Congress enacted the Education Amendments, which included 20 U.S.C. § 1681. Commonly referred to as Title IX, this statute prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance […].” There are numerous exceptions to this general prohibition, including subsection (8):
[T]his section shall not preclude father-son or mother-daughter activities at an educational institution, but if such activities are provided for students of one sex, opportunities for reasonably comparable activities shall be provided for students of the other sex […]
Exceptions in Title IX
The Cranston school district was concerned that State law did not have comparable exception language. Therefore, it conceded that “it could be argued […] that a father-daughter dance and a mother-son baseball game are not comparable activities” and, contrary to federal law, “perpetuates outdated notions of ‘girl’ and ‘boy’ activities.”
Here in Connecticut, the General Statutes also prohibit discrimination in public schools:
Each… child shall have… an equal opportunity to participate in the activities, programs and courses of study offered in… public schools… without discrimination on account of race, color, sex, national origin or sexual orientation…
However, much like with Rhode Island, there appears to be a distinct absence of exceptions similar to those found in Title IX. As such, it will be particularly interesting to see the reaction of our legislators in responding to this situation, or whether it will take the threat of litigation to spur action. At the very least, school districts nationwide should be on notice and take preemptive measures to make sure they aren’t the next Cranston, Rhode Island school district.
Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.
Should you have any questions regarding Title IX, discrimination in public schools, or other education law matters, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya, Esq. at Maya Murphy, P.C.’s Westport office located in Fairfield County at (203) 221-3100 or at JMaya@mayalaw.com.
 Letter to Superintendent Nero of the Cranston School Department, submitted May 2, 2012: www.riaclu.org/documents/CranstonSchoolDanceLetter.pdf
 “RI School System: Dad-Daughter Dances Violate Law,” by the Associated Press. September 21, 2012: Connecticut.cbslocal.com/2012/09/21/ri-school-system-dad-daughter-dances-violate-law
 “School Concludes Bias Law Bars Father-Daughter Dances,” by Debra Cassens Weiss. September 19, 2012: www.abajournal.com/news/article/school_concludes_discrimination_law_bars_father-daughter_dances
 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a).
 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a)(8).
 See Footnote 2.
 Connecticut General Statutes § 10-15c.