Alicia Hobson’s 11-year-old daughter, Azlyn, was counting down the days until the Valentine’s Day dance at her Utah middle school.
“She was so excited she could barely sleep,” Hobson told TODAY Parents, noting that the sixth grader picked out her outfit a week ahead of time.
"It was supposed to be the best day ever," Hobson, 37, said.
But it wasn't.
That afternoon, when Azlyn got home, she had an "emotional explosion" in the kitchen, while recounting how a boy who makes her uncomfortable had asked her to dance.
“She politely said, ‘No thank you,’” Hobson revealed. The problem? At Rich Middle School in Laketown, Utah, it's against the rules to say "no," and principal Kip Motta allegedly intervened when he heard Azlyn decline the invitation at the dance.
“He said something like, ‘No, no. You kids go out and dance,’” Hobson revealed. “He basically shooed Azlyn and the boy off onto the dance floor.”
Azlyn told her mother she “hated every minute” and was “so relieved” when the song finally ended.
Motta and Rich School District Superintendent Dale Lamborn did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment. But Motta stood by the school’s policy in a letter to Hobson.
“We do ask all students to dance. It is the nice thing to do and this will continue to be our policy,” Motta wrote on Feb. 15. “There have been similar situations in the past where some students have felt uncomfortable with others, and, as stated prior, the issues were discreetly handled. This allowed all students to feel welcome, comfortable, safe, and included.”
Motta added that Hobson always has the option to check Azlyn out of school during dances, which are held in the daytime.
Hobson isn't satisfied with Motta's response — she wants the policy revised and will go to the Utah Board of Education if it isn't.
“Girls HAVE to learn that they have the right to say no and that those around them have to respect that,” Hobson wrote on Facebook. “I’m not going to quietly stand by while my daughter and all of her classmates are being wrapped up in rape culture. No way.”
Dr. Rebecca Schrag Hershberg, a New York City-based clinical psychologist, agrees with Hobson and believes the rule is "dangerous."
"Policies like this one not only overlook, but completely fly in the face of, what we need to be teaching young children — of all gender identities — about the importance of consent," Schrag Hershberg told TODAY Parents. "Essentially, it is saying that a child needs to say 'yes' no matter how they feel, as a blanket rule. I don't think it's a stretch to say that such a message is very much in alignment with rape culture and, therefore, very dangerous if perpetuated."
Kanesville Elementary School in West Haven, Utah, changed its policy saying kids must accept dance requests after a parent complained in 2018.