Amy Peterson has been a single mom for six years and identifies as both the mom and dad in the family. But for the officials at Locust Grove Elementary in Georgia, that explanation wasn't enough to allow her into the school's father-daughter dance.
Her 6-year-old daughter, Gracie, has been looking forward to this dance for months. Peterson tells WSB-TV that it's been tough for Gracie. One kindergarten classmate even told her "she didn't have a dad because she's fat and ugly."
So when Peterson found out there was going to be a father-daughter dance, she didn't want Gracie to miss out. Instead, she decided to create a memorable date with her daughter. Both mom and daughter agreed Peterson would dress up like a man.
“I was trying to comply with the rules,” Peterson told 11Alive. “I knew if I showed up as her mom, they probably wouldn't have let me in.”
So the mom watched tutorials online to master a beard effect with mascara, put on larger clothes, a bow tie and a hat and sprayed some cologne for finishing touches. Gracie was in her Sunday best, a white and blue dress that complemented Mom's outfit.
Peterson said she filed paperwork with the school a month before the dance, informing them she would be the parent going with Gracie. But it wasn't until an hour before the dance, when the duo was getting ready to head out, that Peterson got an unexpected phone call from the school principal.
"The school principal called, saying she caught rumor that (Gracie’s) mother was bringing her and she forbid us to come, and if we showed up we would be turned away,” Peterson told 11Alive.
When Gracie found out they couldn't go, she screamed, "No, why? Why do I have to be the one missing a dad?"
Other moms have successfully dressed up as "dads" and attended school events meant for fathers. In September, Yevette Vasquez in Texas attended as her son's "dad" at the school's "Doughnuts with Dad" breakfast. And just last month, Utah mom Whitney Kittrell also showed up to her son's school event in her best dad clothes.
"I made a promise with myself that I would do anything I could, even if it meant going out of my comfort zone, to give my kids a 'normal' life and the same experiences as other kids," Kittrell wrote on Facebook.
In responses to 11Alive and WSB-TV, Henry County school district said schools can censor who can and can't attend dances and that Peterson was spoken to in advance. The district pointed to the sweetheart dance hosted by the school on Valentine's Day, which would include everyone. It also acknowledged an apology and refund was issued to Peterson, but Peterson denied it happened.
"There were a few other mothers who inquired as to being allowed in the dance, and they were informed of the same stipulations. It was explained that the dance announcement indicated that in lieu of a dad being available to attend, any family or friend father-figure could attend," the statement read. "The school is cognizant that different dynamics exist across households in our school system. There are multiple parent engagement events and opportunities to participate with their kids annually at this school in an effort to make that connection and build school spirit.”
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Peterson, who plans to homeschool her daughter next year, says the school's response was not enough. The heartbreak she and her daughter faced has broader consequences.
“How do you explain that to a 6-year-old? You can’t go to a dance because you don’t have a male role model in your life,” she said. “I think they handled it poorly. They shouldn’t have turned any parent away.”
Photographs by Amy Peterson