A New Jersey principal denied that boys at Maude M. Wilkins Elementary School were expected to dress as women for an assignment celebrating Women's History Month after parents complained and contacted Fox News. But to Janine Giandomenico's nine-year-old son, the expectation was all too clear. The boy came home in tears and begged his mother, "Please don't make me do this."
In a 16-page packet sent home with students, teacher Tonya Uibel informed parents that all students in her third grade class must participate in the fashion show, since it would be graded as an "end of unit assessment." The packet included pictures of women's fashions from different decades to give students ideas of how they might dress.
"If your child is a young man, he does not have to wear a dress or skirt, as there were many time periods where women wore jeans, pants and trousers," stated the letter in the packet. "However, each child must be able to express what time period their outfit is from."
Word about the assignment spread when Giandomenico posted a Facebook message. Some who read her post noted that the day the fashion show was scheduled coincided with an event organized by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. On the "Day of Silence," students are asked to protest bullying of gay students by remaining quiet all day. Giandomenico said she found the overlap of the two events "very odd."
Another parent, Stacy Bowen of Bucks County, PA heard about the assignment and said she also found it "ironic" that the event was scheduled on the "Day of Silence." She reasoned, "You're forcing boys to do this, yet you stand for anti-bullying. They [boys] may feel pressured to do it when they don't want to." Bullying was on Giandomenico's mind as well. She said her son has Aspergers's syndrome, a social interaction disorder, and she was concerned that he might be ridiculed if he participated in the show.
Maple Shade Township Superintendent Michael Livengood told FoxNews.com it was all a "misunderstanding." The fashion show was chosen to highlight how women's roles in society have changed over time, and how female clothing changed to suit those new roles, explained Livengood. "I wish the letter had been clearer and worded differently," he said. Livengood also said he was not aware that the gay rights protest was scheduled for the same day.
In the wake of media attention and complaints, school principal Beth Narcia sent a letter to parents apologizing for "any confusion or frustration" caused by the assignment. She informed parents the fashion show was canceled, and said students would draw a picture of a person dressed in period clothing as the final project instead. "I wanted to clear up any misconceptions about the clothing show," the principal wrote. "It was never our intention to have boys dress up as women. There are many different time periods that had women dressing in pants, suits, and even sweat suits. Students were just asked to dress up as a time period, not as a woman." An Associated Press article (4-14-10) implied that parents and others misinterpreted the school's intent and made a ruckus over nothing. Others responding via blogs and social media said the teacher's letter seemed pretty clear and was difficult to reconcile with the claims in the principal's follow-up letter.
A few little girls were disappointed they didn't get to dress up for school, but Giandomenico considered the cancellation a victory. "I'm positive my little boy was not the only one who felt uncomfortable doing this," she said. The last update on her Twitter account read, "We won — cancelled! Thanks 4 yr support!" (Fox News, 4-13-10)