Having a full dance card isn’t necessarily a sweet thing at a Utah elementary school after a parent has raised concerns about a rule that no child can reject another student’s invitation to dance at a Valentine’s Day party.
Natalie Richard, the mother of a sixth-grader at Kanesville Elementary School in Ogden, Utah, was shocked to learn that it would be against the rules for her daughter to decline another student’s dance request at the school’s annual “Hearts Day” event.
Richard has not yet responded to PEOPLE’s request for comment, but told Salt Lake City’s Fox 13 station that forcing children to say “yes” to every request isn’t a good policy.
It’s a bad message, she says, especially in light of the “Me Too” sexual abuse and harassment movement currently dominating headlines. Telling a girl that she has to say “yes” to a boy’s dance request reinforces the message that “girls can’t say ‘no,'” she told the news outlet.
“Psychologically,” my daughter keeps coming to me and saying, ‘I can’t say no to a boy,’ ” said Richard, who went to the school’s principal with her concerns and was told that students had followed dance guidelines for years with no complaints. “That’s the message kids are getting.”
A spokesperson for the Weber School District tells PEOPLE that officials are taking a fresh look at elementary school dance rules because of the controversy, but adds that the “don’t say ‘no'” policy was put in place for a good reason.
“Students are told by their teacher that if a classmate asks to be on their (dance) card, they should be polite and respectful and agree to dance with that person,” says Lane Findlay, community relations specialist for the district. “The purpose behind this is to encourage more interaction between students and to promote an atmosphere of inclusion.”
Every year, in advance of the sixth-grade dance, Kanesville students receive dance cards and write down the names of five students they’d like to dance with on Valentine’s Day, he says.
“Half of the selections are girl’s choice, and the other half are boy’s choice,” says Findlay, “and students can’t dance with the same person more than once. Leading up to the dance, students are taught certain styles of dancing like line dancing as part of P.E., and these dances are incorporated into the Valentine dance. Participation in the dance is voluntary, but is encouraged.”
In the future, though, teachers in the Weber District will be advised to eliminate language in instructions about school dances that suggests students have to dance with another student, he says.
“We still want to strongly encourage inclusion, kindness and mutual respect,” says Findlay, “but we feel this change will be of greater benefit to all students who choose to attend these dances.”