Va. School’s No-Contact Rule Is a Touchy Subject

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!!!!!”


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. —Maria GlodVa. School’s No-Contact Rule Is a Touchy Subject (Washington Post (will expire))

The article features the plight of a boy who got into trouble for giving his girlfriend a hug — but it also notes that the hug was one of two infractions: the boy also got up from his assigned seat and went over to his girlfriend without permission.

I’m not sure that I’m comfortable with the principal’s statement that students need to comply with an absolute rule, but that enforcers need wiggle room. If you call the rule absolute, doesn’t that just teach students to think of rules — even so-called absolute ones — as a means of dishing out arbitrary punishment at the whim of an authority figure? If there is wiggle room, then the rule is not absolute. It might be appropriate to say that touching itself is not a problem, but to enforce rules against such things as bullying, loitering in the halls, distracting other students, and dress code, and noting that monitors will naturally be drawn to the activities of two students who are touching one another, and that any violation of the rules that really are disruptive can lead to a harsher penalty if touching is involved. But my solution may not work for a building housing 1100 tweenagers in a space designed for 850.

The article also refers to different cultural notions of what counts as acceptable personal space.

Still, the fact that these kids even have assigned spaces in the cafeteria suggests that maintaining crowd control is more important to the administrators than teaching socialization. I understand that there are only so many hours in the day and there are probably only a small number of kids who are causing the problems, but “what about socialization” is typically the first question that homeschooling families hear from people with kids in public or private schools.

I grew up in Vienna, and I was bussed right past Joyce Kilmer to a different school. The school’s namesake is best known for his poem “Trees.”

I haven’t the energy to write much more than “I think that I shall never see / A rule so laughably PC.”

See also “Fisher v. Lowe 1999.