Published November 08, 2007
Affectionate students are feeling the squeeze around the country as their displays of affection land them in trouble with school administrators.
Madison Muir, 12, a seventh grader in Prattville, Ala., spent her Wednesday at home after giving a grieving friend a hug during a school break on Monday. And eighth grader Megan Coulter finished her second detention Tuesday after she flouted her Mascoutah, Ill., school's PDA policy last week.
"I think it's kind of stupid," said Madison, who was at home Wednesday rather than serving an in-school suspension at Prattville Junior High School. "I mean it's not like we're doing anything wrong. It's just a hug."
More students are finding their schools have become no-hug zones, with pupils facing warnings, detentions and even suspensions for public displays of affection.
From Kilmer Middle School in Vienna, Va., to Fossil Hill Middle School in Keller, Texas, schools are enforcing their PDA policies, leaving students to go elsewhere for that warm and fuzzy feeling.
"We are trying to educate our children in the very best way we know how and that includes some training in socialization skills," said Sam McGowen, the superintendent of the Mascoutah Community Unit School District No. 19.
Coulter had been warned when she hugged a fellow student last month and was given a detention when she hugged another student on campus last Friday, McGowen said. Minutes later, Coulter hugged another student and was slapped with a second detention.
"I see nothing wrong with hugging," said Derek Randel, the president of StoppingSchoolViolence.com. "If the teachers could tell the difference between good touch and bad touch whether someone is bullying or horse playing, that would go much farther."
Many of the policies stem from a 1999 Supreme Court decision that found school districts liable for damages in cases of peer sexual harassment. The case was brought by the mother of a fifth grader who was repeatedly harassed by a fellow student in a district that ignored the problem.
But the court warned in its decision that broad-based policies alone wouldn't protect schools from lawsuits.
"We stress that our conclusion here — that recipients may be liable for their deliberate indifference to known acts of peer sexual harassment — does not mean that recipients can avoid liability only by purging their schools of actionable peer harassment or that administrators must engage in particular disciplinary action," Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote.
McGowen said his school district would have the policy regardless of the court decision.
"We feel students come to school to learn and we feel that an environment that discourages inappropriate public display of affection is in keeping with the highest standards we could have as a community and as a school district," McGowen said.