Yesterday I read an interesting Washingtonpost.com article about a “no physical contact” rule at Kilmer Middle School in Vienna, VA. Vienna is a Fairfax county community, just outside of D.C. I learned about Hal Beaulieu a 7th grade Kilmer student who was reprimanded; that’s right, sent to the office, for “hugging” his girlfriend in the school cafeteria.
All touching — not only fighting or inappropriate touching — is against the rules at Kilmer Middle School in Vienna. Hand-holding, handshakes and high-fives? Banned. The rule has been conveyed to students this way: “NO PHYSICAL CONTACT!!!!!”
School officials say the rule helps keep crowded hallways and lunchrooms safe and orderly, and ensures that all students are comfortable. But Hal, 13, and his parents think the school’s hands-off approach goes too far, and they are lobbying for a change.
“I think hugging is a good thing,” said Hal, a seventh-grader
Hal is a hugger. I don’t blame the young man. I like a good hug too, and hugs are often innocuous. Why send the affectionate young man to “the office” just for slipping his 13 year old arm around his main squeeze? (They have since amicably parted ways. No doubt the stigma of being seen in the Kilmer hallways with a known offender was too weighty a burden to bear.)
Deborah Hernandez, Kilmer’s principal, said the rule makes sense in a school that was built for 850 students but houses 1,100. She said that students should have their personal space protected and that many lack the maturity to understand what is acceptable or welcome.
I was just wondering, should the personal space of students be protected only when school’s are overcrowded? If the school’s population could be reduced by 250, would the students be free to hug?
Seriously, I like the rule. Sure, it seems oppressive that high-5’s and handshakes have been outlawed, but public displays of affection have no business in school (middle or high). Unless young Hal is huggin’ is Mom when she comes to pick him up after the final bell.
It isn’t as if hug police patrol the Kilmer hallways, Hernandez said. Usually an askance look from a teacher or a reminder to move along is enough to stop girls who are holding hands and giggling in a huddle or a boy who pats a buddy on the back. Students won’t get busted if they high-five in class after answering a difficult math problem.
Typically, she said, only repeat offenders or those breaking other rules are reprimanded. “You have to have an absolute rule with students, and wiggle room and good judgment on behalf of the staff,” Hernandez said.
This is a common sense rule. “Huggin’ Hal” was sent to the office, not just for his PDA, but because he broke one rule – leaving his assigned table – to go break another rule. Keep in mind that this young man was not punished. He wasn’t placed in detention. He was warned to obey the stated policy.
Hal’s mom and dad – Donna and Henri – say that they “encourage hugging at home and have taught him to shake hands when he meets someone.” I appreciate their fine instruction. Clearly, Hal is a quick study, but this is not about being polite or affectionate. Hal was not, and probably would not have been, reprimanded for introducing himself to the foreign exchange student with a nice, firm, Old Dominion handshake. Hal was sent to “the office” because he left his assigned seat to go hug his girl.
This is really not a big deal, but the Beaulieu’s don’t seem to get it.
“How do kids learn what’s right and what’s wrong?” Henri Beaulieu asked. “They are all smart kids, and they can draw lines. If they cross them, they can get in trouble. But I don’t think it would happen too often.” Beaulieu has written a letter to the county School Board asking it to review the rule.
Well, Henri, one way kids learn right and wrong is through rules. Not just “do this”…”don’t do this”, but by explaining why the rule is in place, and why it is important to follow the rule. Teach young Hal that hugging mom and dad at home in Vienna is not the same thing as hugging a young lady in the Kilmer cafeteria. I’m sure that Hal did not have nefarious intentions. I’m also sure that he knew he wasn’t supposed to be doing what he did. Learning to discipline one’s self is a necessary part of growing up.
Hal said that he and his classmates understand when and how it is appropriate to hug or pat someone on the back in school and that most teenagers respect boundaries set by their peers…”I think you should be able to shake hands, high-five and maybe a quick hug,” he said. “Making out goes too far.”
Ya think, Hal? I’m not even going to touch that issue.