Published April 13, 2010
A school superintendent in New Jersey says a "misunderstanding" led an elementary school teacher to mandate that all students -- including young boys -- dress as women in a now-canceled fashion show to honor Women's History Month.
Maple Shade Township School Superintendent Michael Livengood said the show, which had been scheduled for Friday at Maude Wilkins Elementary School, has been canceled.
"I wish the letter had been clearer and had been worded differently," Livengood told FoxNews.com, referring to a letter sent home to the children's parents last week informing them of the assignment. "But it was a misunderstanding. It was meant to demonstrate students' awareness in women's roles, and along with that, their changes in fashion over time."
In a 16-page packet sent home with students, teacher Tonya Uibel alerted parents that all students in her third grade class would have to participate in the activity, since it would be graded as an "end of unit" assignment. The packet also included suggestions of how students may dress, including fashions from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s like bellbottoms, poodle skirts and cheerleader outfits. Photographs of fashion icons like Twiggy and Madonna are also included.
"If your child is a young man, he does not have to wear a dress or skirt, as there are many time periods where women wore jeans, pants and trousers. However, each child must be able to express what time period their outfit is from. Most of all, your child should have fun creating their outfit and learning about how women's clothing has changed!"
Livengood said students will now be asked to a draw a picture of a person dressed in clothing from a specific time period as the lesson plan's culminating project.
He said the school's principal, Beth Narcia, had not received "one single" complaint pertaining to the event from parents. But one parent told FoxNews.com she contacted Uibel directly after her 9-year-old son came home "in tears" after getting the assignment.
"My son was very upset," said Janine Giandomenico. "He said, 'Mommy, please don't make me do this.'"
Giandomenico said her son has Asperger's syndrome, a social interaction disorder, and she feared he would expose himself to ridicule from other students if he participated in the show.
"My husband and I are very open-minded, but this is a decision for my son to make when he's old enough to understand it," Giandomenico said. "I thought it was wrong. I felt like I had to say something."
She said she also found it "very odd" that the event was scheduled to coincide with an anti-bullying "Day of Silence" organized by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, which is encouraging students nationwide to remain mute during classes on Friday to call attention to verbal and physical abuse of gay students.
Instead of dressing in historical garments, Giandomenico said she suggested to Uibel that students create skits to memorialize significant moments in history pertaining to women. She also questioned why the fashion show idea was approved at all.
"They chose this route," she said. "And I'm positive that my little boy was not the only one who felt uncomfortable doing this. I'm just being honest. So I felt I had to open my mouth."
In a letter dated Monday, Narcia informed parents that the show, which was to be videotaped, had been canceled. She apologized for "any confusion or frustration" the assignment may have caused.
"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 and men dressing in pants, suits, and even sweat suits. Students were just asked to dress as a time period, not as a woman. The children were then being asked to identify their time period of dress."
Calls to the school seeking comment were referred to Livengood.
Stacy Bowen, a mother of two young children in Bucks County, Pa., said she contacted the school's principal after seeing Giandomenico's Facebook posts on the matter.
"I was just so outraged," Bowen said. "I find it completely alarming that a school would do this."
Bowen said she also found it "ironic" that the event was scheduled on the "Day of Silence."
"It's a step out of line," she said. "You're forcing boys to participate in this, yet you stand for anti-bullying. They may feel pressured to do it when they don't want to."
Bowen, whose children are ages 2 and 5, said she would take matters into her own hands if a similar event were held in her school district's classrooms.
"I would've kept my child home," she said. "It's a step too far to portray boys in this manner."