Ella Fishbough, 14, is now an eighth grader with a record. Ella was given suspension by Jackson Heights principal Sarah Mansur-Blythe (left) for a hug. That’s right. She hugged a friend who was having a bad day and was immediately reported for discipline under a hopelessly undefined prohibition on “inappropriate or obscene acts.” As with the other story today of the student suspended for playing Power Rangers, this is a case of blind application of rules without any sense of judgment or fairness. It is part of the zero tolerance culture that has taken hold in our schools.
The district’s code of conduct prohibits “inappropriate or obscene acts” including “unwelcome or inappropriate touching, or any other physical act that is considered to be offensive, socially unacceptable or not suitable for an educational setting.” That of course tells students virtually nothing and allows teachers to adopt any and all possible interpretations of inappropriate touchings. Such an ill-defined rule could just as well say “you can be punished at the discretion of school officials for any act that they deem inappropriate.”
Hugging was banned with other specific acts like kissing, linking arms, and holding hands. I can understand the ban on kissing, though hugging is a common act of friendship. The school is giving this act a presumed sexual meaning and creating a hyper-sensitive environment for these students.
They are all treated as banned “PDA” or Public Displays of Affection. Ella turns out to be a recidivist. She was previously given a PDA after the same boy put a hand on her head. She was listed in the notice as a repeat offender with a “second PDA.”
Jackson Heights principal Sarah Mansur-Blythe has insisted that the PDA rule will continue to be strictly enforced — even in the case of family members. When asked if two family members hugged, Mansur-Blythe reportedly insisted that they would still get a PDA. The obvious illogic of the rule seems not to concern Mansur-Blythe. It simply does not matter. Forgive the pun, but ignorance is Blythe.
Schools are following suit across the country in disciplining students who hug like Megan Coulter, an Illinois eighth-grader, in 2007 who was also a repeat hugger with two brief hugs spotted on school grounds.
Once again, my greatest concern is the teaching that students must accept arbitrary and capricious authority. Here the administrator reportedly pledged to enforce the rule without any logic or discretion against members of the same family. It is not the danger of raising cold and detached students that concern me. It is the danger of raising thoughtless and detached citizens that concern me.