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Rhode Island school district bans gender-specific events, says they violate state discrimination law

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The administration building for Cranston Public Schools. (WPRI.com)

Parents are outraged after a Rhode Island superintendent banned father-daughter dances and mother-son ball games from her school district because of a complaint they violated the state's discrimination law. 

WPRI.com reports Cranston School Superintendent Judith Lundsten informed school organizations gender-specific events would no longer be allowed after school district attorneys found that, while federal gender discrimination laws exempt such events, Rhode Island law does not.

The attorneys did so after receiving a complaint from the ACLU in May on behalf of a single mother in the district. The woman's daughter had no father in her life so she was precluded from attending the father-daughter dance, ACLU Executive Director Steven Brown told The Associated Press.

"I acknowledge that many of these events have long traditions and for many parents, these types of gender-based events are not an issue," Lundsten wrote according to The Associated Press. "However, this is a public school system and under no circumstances should we be isolating any child from full participation in school activities and events based on gender. Please be all-inclusive when planning your events."

Cranston Mayor Allan Fung said Tuesday he was "utterly disappointed" the events were cancelled, saying such traditions "contribute to the well being of our children as a whole."

"In the zeal to protect people who feel they are being disenfranchised, this policy has completely denied our children of one of the most cherished traditions in their school experience." he said according to WPRI.com. "I encourage all parents that are upset with this decision to contact their school committee members and make their voices be heard."

Many parents interviewed by WPRI.com say they are upset about the ban. 

“There’s not many opportunities for a father to be with their daughter. I think it’s a travesty to be quite honest with you,” father Adam Roy told the station.

However, some city residents say they understand why the events may be tricky for the district to handle.

“I think it’s a tricky issue. I do feel for the families and children that don’t have a mother or a father figure,” Brooke Brown told WPRI.com .

School Committee Member Andrea Iannazzi said the committee will consider at a Monday meeting a resolution asking the General Assembly to change state law to allow the events.

Brown told The Associated Press that gender-specific events are not appropriate and commedded the school system for banning them. He also noted that the Cranston events play to gender stereotypes by offering dances for girls and baseball games for boys.

"Not every girl today is interested in growing up to be Cinderella, not even in Cranston," Brown said in a statement later. "In fact, one of them might make a great major league baseball player someday."

On Monday, Sean Gately, a Republican running for state Senate, criticized the district decision, calling gender-based events, including the mother-son baseball games, important traditions. Gately's political opponent, Democrat Frank Lombardi, is a school committee member.

Gately on Tuesday said his wife was looking forward to taking their 7-year-old son to the sporting event. He called the superintendent's decision "complete political correctness run amok" and said he is seeking a legislative fix.

Earlier this year, Cranston also was the site of an emotionally charged, months-long battle over a prayer banner at a local high school. 

The banner was ruled unconstitutional and ordered removed by a federal judge after a lawsuit was filed by the ACLU on behalf of a student-atheist at the school.

Click for more from WPRI.com.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.