May Day Royal Suite dress change triggers backlash

Changing 147-year-old traditions in this city is not as easy as changing clothes – particularly these ones

Passions have been ignited over changes to a 147-year tradition unique to the Royal City.

About 20 people descended on Tuesday’s school board meeting to plead with trustees to reverse its decision to have the Royal Suite wear floral dresses lined with crinoline and topped with a white bolero and short white gloves at this year’s May Day celebrations.
Instead, parents, students and past May Queens want the girls to don the traditional white dresses and capes that have been a part of the annual event since 1870.

“Both my daughter and I share our shock at the announcement at the parent meeting that the school district has eliminated the traditional white attire for the girls this year. My daughter was very upset and disappointed as were the majority of the girls in the suite,” said Christina Black, whose daughter Samantha is part of this year’s Royal Suite.

Black questioned why the change was made at all when in November, trustees approved a request by the May Day task force to extend its consultation period to June 2017. She, like others at Tuesday’s meeting, thought the extension meant the annual celebration would remain status quo until the task force returned to the board of education with its recommendations.

“I do not believe any one person or small group of people has the right to make a decision to entirely eliminate a significant component of a 147-year tradition without any prior public consultation,” she told trustees and staff.

But associate superintendent Janet Grant said the decision was part of “a fluid process” that began in January when several longstanding volunteers on the May Day committee quit. This prompted Grant and the other members to revisit the event. It was during this discussion that the committee decided the Royal Suite would wear floral dresses, she said.

“We vetted all those ideas through the task force, and then I shared it with the board and this is how we got on to this course that we’re on right now,” Grant told the Record.

But Grant did not foresee the backlash she’d received regarding the dress change.

“What I’ve realized is that there are some parents that are very, very passionate about having their children wear the traditional attire,” she said. “We’ve always been saying you can wear the floral dress that the school district has provided or any other spring attire that you want to wear. … We’re providing options this year, where we’ve never really had options before, and we think that that’s important.”

But this is the first time an option has been discussed.

In a past press release, the district said the “traditional white attire will be refreshed with the girls wearing matching spring dresses.” There was no mention of a choice between the white dresses and capes and the new spring dresses.

That’s because “this whole thing has been fluid and has evolved,” Grant said. “Back in the day, when we were generating these ideas, we didn’t anticipate the amount of passion and dedication to the traditional apparel. That was, to be honest, unanticipated to the extent that we see now.”

If any girls in the Royal Suite want to wear the traditional outfits, they will have to speak with Grant about borrowing a cape from the district. They will be responsible for finding their own white dresses to go with it, Grant said.

It’s unclear if the dress debate will be discussed by school trustees. Nothing was discussed or decided at Tuesday’s meeting, and it’s up to trustees to have the issue put on an agenda for an upcoming meeting.

Any girls wanting to borrow a cape are asked to contact jgrant@sd40.bc.ca.

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