A 14-year-old middle school student was suspended as a result of the Florida school’s strict no-hugging policy.
Nick Martinez said he hugged his best friend, a female student, quickly between classes, according to WKMG-TV, Orlando, and never thought the gesture would result in suspension. The principal at Southwest Middle School in Palm Bay saw the hug and brought the two students to the dean, who issued a one-day in-school suspension.
“Honestly, I didn’t know, because I didn’t think hugging was a bad thing. I didn’t know you could get suspended for it,” Martinez told WKMG-TV. “A lot of friends are hugging. I just happened to be the one caught doing it.”
According to the school’s student handbook, students can be penalized for hugging or hand-holding with either a dean’s detention or suspension. Kissing calls for a one-day out-of-school suspension.
Martinez’s mother, Nancy Crescente, was outraged to learn her son had been suspended for the “mutual hug,” and is calling on the school board to clarify the policy.
As it stands, the school’s handbook doesn’t distinguish between an inappropriate hug, which could constitute harassment, and a mutual, friendly hug. It also makes no distinction in the policy between 11-year-old students and 16-year-olds, who all attend Southwest.
“We cannot make an opinion or judgment call on whether a hug is appropriate or not. It’s very difficult to police that on campus,” Christine Davis, the public information officer for Brevard County Public Schools, told ABC News.
Davis said the school puts policies and procedures in place to help keep the students focused on learning.
The official policy across Brevard Country schools is that public affection is “in poor taste,” but it does not necessarily result in suspension. This middle school’s Student Advisory Council, a board made up of teachers, parents and administrators, reviewed the district’s guidelines and outlined the specific consequences for public displays of affection.
“Sometimes district policies are broad,” Davis said. “They outline those that need further clarification. They have outlined the consequences for kissing or hugging. They do a very good job.”
The school has no plans to change the policy.
Crescente told WKMG-TV that she would ask the board to change the policy and fight to have her son’s suspension scrubbed from his record.