School cancels fashion show over cross-dressing fears

Maple Shade, NJ - (NBC) - Fears of cross-dressing students prompted a South Jersey elementary school to cancel a fashion show honoring Women's History Month.

Maude Wilkins Elementary School in Maple Shade, N.J. planned to show how women's fashion had changed through the years with a fashion show this Friday.

All students, girls and boys, were told to wear outfits from a particular time period and were expected to clearly explain its historical significance.

But the idea didn't sit well with the mother of one third grade student after her son told her he was afraid of being bullied because of the pageant.

"His exact words were 'Please, please mommy, don't make me do this,'" Janine Giandomenico said.

Giandomenico says her son, who the family requested we not identify, refused to go to school the day of the show.

"I was like no, absolutely not. I've gotta tell mom I'm not doing a fashion show," the child said.

In a packet of ideas sent home to parents, school officials said they didn't expect boys to wear dresses, but highlight some type of fashion and explain its time period and significance.

"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," a letter to parents said.

Students were to be graded on their presentation and the event was to be videotaped, scaring the child even more.

"For anyone to see that video, that was even more than he could bare," explained Giandomenico.

So the mom complained to her son's teacher saying she wouldn't set him up for ridicule.

"This fashion show has no valid relevance to the wonderful things that women have done in history," she said.

"A fashion show is not an academic lesson in the important role women have played in this world, their spirit, intelligence, loyalty, stamina and courage are," said Giandomenico.

She not only took her case to the teacher, but put it on the Internet as well.  The woman's social media outrage earned her support from friends and strangers alike.

"That is one of the most absurd and bizarre things I have heard in a long while!!! I'm glad to hear they canceled the day," one woman posted on her Facebook wall.

Maple Shade School District Superintendent Michael Livengood says he feels the whole situation was just a matter of semantics.

"I recognize the letter should have been more clear with what the expectation was for boys. I don't believe the teachers wanted boys or expected boys to cross-dress," said Livengood.

Livengood also said his office hasn't received any complaints about the show, but nevertheless it was canceled.

Wilkins principal Beth Norcia notified parents of the cancellation Monday. In her letter, she stated it was "never our intention to have boys dress as women."

She also explained that the show was to be videotaped so that the students could be judged for an award from The Advisory Council on Women in Burlington County.

Not everyone is happy that the event was shuttered. Fourth grader Gianna Jacoby had her outfit all picked out for the show.

"It was just disappointing because I thought I was going to have fun and wear all of these beads and these clip on earrings," Jacoby said.

Gianna's mom Lisa says she understands where Giandomenico's coming from, but thinks canceling the show was too much.

"I can understand a little bit, but I don't think it should go as far fetched as to cancel the fashion show over something like that."

Giandomenico says she never asked for the event to be canceled and only requested her son be given an alternate assignment.

"I'm sorry to hear that some of the little girls in town were disappointed at their chance on the runway, but that was the township's decision and I never asked for it," she said.

The woman went on to say that by the time she actually spoke to the teacher, the event had already been canceled.

As for the assignment, students are expected to draw a picture of someone wearing clothing from the time period of their choice. The students won't have to explain the historical significance, but simply write the time period on the page.

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