New Jersey District Scrambles to Clarify School Hugging Ban

By Catherine Gewertz — March 27, 2012 1 min read
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In the world of spin control, here’s an unenviable job: trying to explain that a ban on hugging in a New Jersey middle school isn’t really that big a deal.

You might have heard the brouhaha last week when the principal of Matawan-Aberdeen Middle School, Tyler Blackmore, announced over the public-address system that the school of 900 11- to 14-year-olds was “a no-hugging school.” The new rule came in the wake of some “incidents of unsuitable, physical interactions,” according to Associated Press reports.

As the no-hugging news made its way home to parents, many of whom responded with outrage, the school and the district scrambled to clarify the message.

Blackmore sent a recorded telephone message to the school’s families, saying no one would be suspended for hugging, according to CBS’ New York affiliate.

Superintendent David Healy spoke out, too, saying the district has the responsibility to “teach children about appropriate interactions.” He defended Blackmore’s decision, and reiterated that no child would be suspended for hugging. Healy told the Huffington Postthat the district has “no policy specific to hugging,” and that no one would be “disciplined” for doing so.

Wait: No child will be disciplined for hugging? Wow. I don’t know about you, but I’m immensely relieved to hear that. If no child will be disciplined, then perhaps administrators are trusting the power of the proclamation to get the job done. And perhaps it will.

The problem, according to Healy, wasn’t the principal’s directive, but the hounds in the news media who “sensationalized” the incident, according to the Asbury Park Press.

Apparently the parents, whose anger drew attention to the directive to begin with, blew the incident out of proportion then, too. It couldn’t possibly be the case that perhaps these parents thought a no-hugging ban is at odds with the experience of school they desire for their children. Or that they believe that responding to some incidents of “inappropriate conduct” with a schoolwide ban was an overreaction.

No word so far on how Matawan-Aberdeen is enforcing its “no-hugging school” distinction, since no student will be disciplined for hugging. Stay tuned.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.