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Love in the Hallways: Dearborn Public Schools Tighten Rules on PDA

Dearborn Public Schools have joined a national movement aimed at cracking down on student PDA.

Most wouldn’t disagree with school rules that prohibit students from locking lips between classes. But what about handholding? An arm around a shoulder? A hug for a friend?

In recent years, the Dearborn Public Schools district has moved in the direction of much of the country in prohibiting public displays of affection amongst students.

But the sea change hasn't been without controversy.

In 2007, an Illinois eighth grader made national headlines when she got two detentions for hugging her friends. An article that same year in Time examing PDAs in schools showed that policies vary widely among districts nationally–from very relaxed policies, to ones prohibiting even high-fives.

According to district spokesman David Mustonen, DPS hasn’t had any lawsuits or parent complaints stemming from inappropriate contact between students.

“In my time here, it’s never been an issue,” he said.

But the district lacks a comprehensive policy on the issue, leaving interpretation up to Dearborn’s some 30 individual schools. The Student Code of Conduct states that: “Decency is expected at all times: A student’s printed material, oral language, or physical acts or displays are unacceptable if obscene.”

PDA is considered in violation of the Code of Conduct if students “engage in inappropriate displays of affection.”

“It’s pretty vague and left open,” Mustonen said. “It will look different in the elementary, middle, and high school.”

PBIS Tightens Rules

But with the , restrictions are getting stricter as to what “appropriate” means—especially at the middle school level.

, , , , and schools all implemented the program within the past three school years, along with , , , , , , , , , , , and elementary schools, plus the ninth grade academy.

Dearborn’s high schools will all begin using the program within the next school year.

PBIS focuses on rewarding and encouraging good behavior, rather than just punishing violations.

“It focuses on the core values of being respectful, responsible and safe," explained Mona Berry, a social worker at McCollough-Unis. "It’s an opportunity for students to learn from their mistakes, and accept responsibility for choices they made."

But the policy about PDA has been a tougher pill to swallow for some parents and staff. The rule requires students to “respect personal space,” but is tweaked depending on the school.

At Stout, for example, the PDA guideline makes mention of “inappropriate physical contact (including) hugging, handholding, etc.” and applies to contact between kids of the same or opposite sexes, whether romantic in nature or not.

Student liaison Fatima Tekko explained that the student make-up at Stout requires stricter guidelines, but that interpretation of what is appropriate is still decided on a case-by-case basis.

“We visited Bryant and O.L. Smith and … twisted their idea to fit our students,” she said. “We had to be more careful because our kids are so diverse.”

Still, Tekko said it was hard for her and some other staff to adjust, as they were used to not only seeing students hug each other, but hugging the kids themselves as well.

“When we started (PBIS), it was ‘Don’t touch, don’t hug!’” she said. “But we realized we weren’t teaching them.”

“Now,” she added, “we acknowledge the good instead of the bad.”

Different Times, Different Measures?

Tekko said she believes more stringent rules on student-on-student contact are necessary in an era where kids grow up with access to Internet search engines and social media.

“Times have really changed,” she said. “Kids are a lot more affectionate than we used to be. With Facebook, Twitter, they’re learning quicker than we did and sharing more.”

And in certain populations, such as special needs kids, PBIS rules can help teach kids who have issues with learning what is appropriate in terms of PDA.

Dearborn PTA President Colette Richards said that the special needs program at O.L. Smith, where her son attends, has found rules about personal space to be extremely useful.

“They teach (students) how to not give in to the sensory-type things,” Richards said. “The paraprofessionals and employees are working to teach students … the proper way to display affection.”

Richards said PDA rules haven’t been a topic of disagreement among parents she has spoken with; however, she sees the potential for problems when schools are enforcing those rules differently.

“I think it depends on the school–how they interpret it and how they train their staff how to handle that,” she said.

It’s Tekko’s hope that by working together, Dearborn schools can set guidelines for middle school-aged kids that will transfer into high school, too.

“When they get into high school, they’ll already know the rules,” she explained. “There will already be a set of behaviors in place.”

R.A. Blanton February 14, 2012 at 02:27 AM
when my kids asked for a hug or a kiss they got it - I may have told them to "hold on a sec" if I was in the middle of something - but I never REFUSED my childs affection or my grandchildren's... that is why there is so much crime in school anymore - no one can show emotion for fear of getting kicked out or some other form of displinary action for a simply hug, high five, or even a kiss on the cheek - now it is considered "dirty", "sexual" or other demeaning words. If there are high school kids caught "kissing" under the stairs or in hallways - then haul them into the office, but a 5 yr old hugging a friend - and then getting kicked out of school for that!! Give me a break! People bitch and complain because kids nowadays don't show any emotion etc... well this is why - work on the education of schooling in schools and teach kids right and wrong - damn, sounds like a concentration camp in schools nowadays.
Lee Jacobsen February 14, 2012 at 03:16 AM
Want your kid to break out of the 'concentration camp' of the public school system? If you have the time, then home schooling is the obvious choice. Want some reasons' Check them out on this link... http://www.successful-homeschooling.com/homeschooling-vs-public-schooling.html Some of the obvious reasons for home schooling vs Public schooling are : Academics,,,,,,,,,, direct one-on-one vs one out of 31, Parent direct and monitored....vs limited parental involvement Students at own pace vs adherence to arbitrary scope and sequence Two way dialogue vs Lecture Environment............ Cooperative vs Lecture Real life & multi age vs segregated by age, income, and often, race. Physicallly and emotionally safe vs Danger of Bullies, verbal abuse, and assault Consistent , secure vs Changes from year to year Encouragement Vs Negative peer pressure Values.......... Independence vs Dependence on teacher, government Self motivation vs External rewards and consequences Creativity vs Adherence to standards Tolerance , individuality vs Pecking order, conformity Family vs Teachers, peers There are more, but you get the idea. Montessori is close to Home school, but has a 3 to 1 student teacher ratio, and the teachers give progress updates every week, not every day feedback like home school. How many progress updates do you get from public school?
john February 14, 2012 at 05:32 AM
Well now; that should mean that they can't play football or basketball because they will have to touch each other..................How sick these B*****D's are. People in society today have gone crazy. No common sense anymore.
A. Xak February 14, 2012 at 05:40 AM
Who do they think they are bringing up these days? ROBOTS? Or human being children. If you bottle up too much youthful energy, just like any pressure cooker going unchecked, it will EXPLODE!
J.E. Buckingham February 14, 2012 at 05:46 AM
Sheesh, talk about being controlling! That school district should worry LESS about hand-holding, and feelings of love between students, and MORE about test scores! Lighten up, peeps.

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