School Hugging Ban: Oregon Middle School Principal Says Hands Off

There's the bear hug. The sympathy hug. The pat-the-back hug.

All are now strictly forbidden at one Oregon middle school where the principal says some students were using the normally friendly gesture to bully or inappropriately touch other students.

"It built right after winter break," West Sylvan Middle School Principal Allison Couch said. "I was observing students hugging other students and the other students didn't feel comfortable."

And then there were the girls who would run the length of the hallway to hug each other between classes, squealing the entire way.

"We're just trying to quell the huge amount of distractions," she said. "With the girls they would hug five or six or seven times between classes."

While the PTA and most parents are behind Couch, there is a small resistance that has touted her actions as limiting the students' freedom. The debate took to Facebook with the newly created group "Stop the Hug Ban at West Sylvan!!"

"What a joke," one poster wrote. "Kids could be doing so much worse."

But Couch said she'd rather get complaints about the ban than hear from parents whose kids are being inappropriately touched, as she did before the ban.

The principal also said she witnessed firsthand how some students are using hugs to intimidate others when two eighth-grade girls ran up and hugged a surprised seventh-grade boy before running away.

"I said, 'Are you OK?' He said, 'They did that to be mean,'" Couch said.

Parents Blowing Hugging Ban Out of Proportion?

West Sylvan PTA president Jill Ross told that the entire board supports the principal's move and that she found all the attention to the ban to be ridiculous.

"This whole thing is amazing to me," Ross said. "This is a non-issue."

Ross said she has spoken about the rule with her son, a sixth-grader.

His response? "Yeah, whatever," she said. "It's not an issue to most of the kids."

School officials had at one time considered a two-second hugging rule, but realized, Ross said, that would be difficult to enforce.

The ban will last through the end of the year and school officials will assess the situation at the beginning of the next school year.