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Beauty pageant causes controversy at Indian Land Elementary School

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By Reece Murphy

Indian Land Elementary School became the focus of unwanted media attention after a flyer sent home with students last week announcing what appeared to be a school-sponsored beauty pageant setting off an outcry from some parents.

Though the Oct. 20 pageant has since been canceled, organizers say they’ve decided to go ahead with it anyway, but under a new name.

The controversy surrounding the First Annual [sic] Indian Land Elementary Warrior School Pageant broke on Sept. 27 after students went home with flyers announcing the pageant at Pleasant Hill United Methodist Church.

“We are looking for a beautiful child with a sparkling personality,” the flyer said. “Modeling will not count. Contestants will be judged on facial beauty, personality and overall appeal.”

The flyer said awards would also be given for “Best Eyes,” “Best Hair,” “Best Smile,” “Most Beautiful,” and “Snapshot” for the best photograph of a contestant.

The fact the flyer invited contestants to be the “First Warrior King or Warrior Queen of Indian Land Elementary,” and “represent your school all year long during school events” didn’t help the perception that the pageant was a school event.

In a community that is no stranger to community action, ILE parents David and Jessica Dodson set up an online petition and a Facebook page calling for the school to distance itself from the pageant.

The petition garnered about 140 electronic signatures – the majority were from other people in other parts of the country.

It wasn’t long before word of parents’ opposition got out to local TV news stations and other news outlets. At the beginning of the week, news outlets as diverse as the Huffington Post, MSNBC, Yahoo.com’s Shine blog and the Daily Mail newspaper in the United Kingdom had picked up the story.

In an interview with WBTV and others, David Dodson said he and his wife worked hard to teach their five children, three whom are current ILE students, the importance of looking beyond outward beauty. To see a school pageant judging children on their physical beauty was troubling, he said.

“Outward appeal is never something you want to judge people on,” Dodson said in the interview. “And the fact that the school would be condoning a competition designed to judge people and segregate people on their outward appearance just isn’t right.”

Principal Beth Blum said the controversy caught her off guard. Blum said she’d been approached by pageant organizers last year about the possibility of doing a pageant much like the one the former combined Indian Land Middle/Elementary School used to hold a few years back.

Also, some of the proceeds were going donated to help buy school playground equipment.

“I said sure, that sounds fine. But I said at that time, it doesn’t need to be school-related,” Blum said. “I didn’t know anything about the flyer until I started getting phone calls from parents after school Thursday.

“The way our policy is, if there’s community information that has to be sent home in bookbags, it has to be cleared by me,” she said. “Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, and it got put in the teachers’ mailboxes.”

Blum said even though the flyer indicated on the back side that the pageant was not a school event, the way it was written and laid out made it look very much like it was, complete with age divisions based on grade levels.

Faced with the outcry, Blum said she asked organizers to cancel the pageant, which they did.

In an e-mail exchange earlier this week, Dodson said it was others who contacted media outlets about the issue, not he and his wife.

He said the two of them created the Facebook page as a forum for other parents to voice their opinions on the matter, and the petition to gauge how many other parents were in agreement with their position.

Both have since been shut down since they served their purpose, he said.

Dodson was firm in his commitment to the school, stressing that he and his wife had always found the school’s teachers and administrators to be “extremely warm, caring and dedicated to our children’s education and well-being.

“ILE is an excellent school and we are beyond pleased that they agreed with us that having a student represent the school based upon a subjective judging of their looks was a bad idea,” Dodson said. “We are sorry if some people are upset about the decision.

“It was not our intention to have the pageant canceled,” he added. “If the supporters of the pageant want to hold a pageant and donate the proceeds to the school, we have no problem with that. We simply did not think it should be associated with the school.”

That’s exactly what pageant organizers planned – thanks to the massive amount of interest generated by the controversy.

“Honestly, what they did helped us out,” co-organizer Sandi Hood said. “We were just going to open it up to the middle school kids, but I’ve had over 240 e-mails from people who want to do the pageant, people from all over the state.

“It’s basically going to be the Miss and Master Indian Land Pageant,” she said. “We already had the date set for Oct. 20, but because of the overwhelming response, we’re going to have to move it back a couple of weeks. It’s going to be open to ages 0 to 19.”

Hood, who is also ILE’s school nurse, said she has been involved in pageants with her daughters for 13 years and was surprised as anyone about the controversy.

She said, in her opinion shows, such as “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo”and “Toddlers and Tiaras” have ruined what has traditionally been an honorable and beloved tradition that’s not all based on looks.

“Everybody is going to have an opinion on it, that’s fine,” Hood said of the pageant. “It was just a simple thing and I think it got out of hand.

“Pageants are not a bad thing. And plus, what little girl doesn’t like to be pampered and walk around with a crown on their head,” she said. “It was going to be fair. We were going to give every little girl a crown, treat them all the same, like queens.”

With nearly a week since the controversy broke, Blum, like others, said she’s ready for the controversy and media scrutiny to die down so the school can move on.

“The lesson learned for me is we need to do a better job of examining and approving community announcements that go home, and we’ll do that,” Blum said. “I think we’ve all learned something from this. I just hate that we’ve all had to go through all these growing pains to get through it.”

 

 Contact reporter Reece Murphy at (803) 283-1151