Virginia School Bans Hugging and Handshakes

A school in the DC area public school has banned all physical contact between students, including shaking hands.

Fairfax County middle school student Hal Beaulieu hopped up from his lunch table one day a few months ago, sat next to his girlfriend and slipped his arm around her shoulder. That landed him a trip to the school office. Among his crimes: hugging.

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, a few days before the end of the school year. “I put my arm around her. It was like for 15 seconds. I didn’t think it would be a big deal.”

A Fairfax schools spokesman said there is no countywide ban like the one at Kilmer, but many middle schools and some elementary schools have similar “keep your hands to yourself” rules. Officials in Arlington, Loudoun and Prince George’s counties said schools in those systems prohibit inappropriate touching and disruptive behavior but don’t forbid all contact.

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.

But isn’t school, a safe environment where maturing youngsters are surrounded by trained adults whose job it is to teach them, an ideal place to develop that understanding?

In her defense, Hernandez acknowledges that there is some flexibility in the enforcement of the rule, with teachers expected to exercise sound judgment. Still, absolute rules — especially silly ones — teach disregard for authority. A ban on fighting and extreme public displays of affection? Sure. Shaking hands, a time-honored social custom that’s considered an essential of etiquette in the real world? Not so much.

Counselors have heard from girls who are uncomfortable hugging boys but embarrassed to tell anyone. And in a culturally diverse school, officials say, families might have different views of what is appropriate.

Toleration and understanding of different perspectives is a valuable thing. There are, however, limits. If we ban anything that anyone considers offensive, nothing is permissible. Rules should reflect things on which there is broad consensus, not the preferences of some small sect. (Are we going to ban anti-depressants because Scientology believes them bad? What if Tom Cruise’s kids are in the class?)

Furthermore, trying to enforce these bans via a broad ban misses out on the opportunity for teachable moments. Most people, when learning that some acquaintance has an unusual cultural preference, will adjust their relations with said acquaintance accordingly. If some kid in the class can’t shake hands because the Great Chicken Mimbo has deemed it taboo, then teach the other students about that. That’s far more conducive to building good cultural relations than making blanket, unexplained bans.

UPDATE: Other reactions (Via Memeorandum):

Jonathan Blanks tosses off several amusing quips before concluding, “We certainly wouldn’t want children to learn how to interact with one another, now would we?”

Ogged: “You know that great demotivator, ‘None of us is as dumb as all of us’? Surely this is most true of school administrators.”

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. This just reinforces my belief that public schools are lost causes. Lowest common denominator “tolerance” replaces actual thinking and moral resoning.

    I’m going to have to make a boatload of money at something because my kids (should I be so blessed) won’t be dealing with idiots like these.

  2. just me says:

    This is just another example of why zero tolerance policies don’t work-they elminate the common sense element.

  3. yetanotherjohn says:

    I just keep getting flash backs to the 80’s slogan, ‘you can’t hug a child with nuclear arms’.

  4. Maybe they heard John Madden refer to Ed Hochuli’s or Brian Urlacher’s arms as guns, what with it already being a gun free zone and all.

  5. Bithead says:

    I tend to agree with Sean, here.

    That said, I seem to recall that some of this conversation which started a few years ago was centered around the question of spinal meningitis which is spread by contact of the otherwise seemingly innocent variety.

  6. MikeM says:

    The funny thing is one of the supposed negatives to home schooling is the kids wouldn’t learn social interactions, and now the public schools are actually doing it.

  7. Wow! That’s a very strange school rule. What’s the reason behind banning all kinds of physical contact? Personally, I think the more that you curtail a person’s freedom to do something the more that he becomes eager to do it anywhere. I just hope that this ban will create multiple positive outcomes.

  8. just me says:

    I am not really sure what the reasoning is.

    I have two guesses-fighting and sexual contact. Both, I think are legitimate prohibitions in a public school.

    The problem is that rather than apply common sense-they just make a giant sweep of their hand and declare it all against the rules.

    Which is stupid-in general humans are touchers-we pat each other on the back, hug, shake hands in greeting, and other kinds of very platonic touching-I am not getting why these things should be lumped into a catagory where two people are hurting each other, or a guy/hirl has their hands down the pants of another student (consensually of course).

    My guess is that these rules are more to benefit the lazy administrator than they are to really promote any kind of safety.

  9. Bandit says:

    Hernandez acknowledges that there is some flexibility in the enforcement of the rule, with teachers expected to exercise sound judgment.

    If they were able to exercise sound judgement in the first place would they need this rule?

  10. nhmind says:

    Ugh! I’ve got 4 kids, the first of whom enters public school in September and I’m stunned at the voluminous student policy manual (even for Kindergarteners). The only manual we had when I went to school was the verbal manual from my parents…”Shut up and listen to your teachers.” So far they haven’t banned appropriate touching, but surely this is a sign of things to come.