Is hugging a friend having a bad day really a crime?
,According to Jackson Heights Middle School in Oviedo, Florida, it is illicit enough to put a stain on a young student’s formerly flawless disciplinary record.
Ella Fishbough, an eighth-grader who had never gotten into trouble at school before, found herself facing an entire morning in detention for putting her arms around another student — a friend who happened to be male and needed a few words of comfort.
“I just like hugged them. It was literally for a second,” the 14-year-old told Click Orlando.
Apparently, that second was all it took for school administrators to take notice and declare that the young girl had violated the Physical Display of Affection policy. The middle school is part of the Seminole County School District, whose code of conduct prohibits “inappropriate or obscene acts” — including “unwelcome or inappropriate touching, or any other physical act that is considered to be offensive, socially unacceptable or not suitable for an educational setting.”
Although it is up to the principals to interpret the touching and determine if it is inappropriate or punishable, Jackson Heights banned hugging altogether earlier this year, along with holding hands, linking arms and kissing.
“I do think about inappropriate touching and boys and girls of this age having feelings for one another, but that’s not what we’re dealing with here,” said student’s mother Kathy Fishbough. “And if administration can’t tell the difference between a friendly, ‘How are you doing’ hug and an inappropriate hug, then I think we have another big problem.”
It was reportedly the second incident between the eighth-grader and the same boy. Last month, the girl was given a warning when the boy put his hand on her head, although it is unclear if the male student was punished for his apparent transgression.
“I did ask the principal, if something happened in our family, and she needed to console her cousin or her cousin wanted to console her, would she get in trouble?” added the mother. “She said, 'Yes, ma'am. She would get a PDA.”’
The Florida middle school might not be the only school in the United States to prohibit hugs and arm linking, but is it healthy to bar all physical contact between students?
“Because we are unable to discuss student discipline issues, we cannot provide specific details on this incident other than to say that all levels of discipline are outlined and followed in the SCPS Student Conduct & Discipline Code,” Michael Lawrence, a Seminole County Public Schools communications officer, said in a statement.
Perhaps it is time the school district makes some notable changes in its policies, or advises principals to learn the difference between friendly hugs and PDA.