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.”

Al Seder February 13, 2012 at 01:36 PM
I think the DPS needs to worry more about the test scores and bringing up the academic standards and not as much about holding hands. This is just a smoke screen. As the ship sinks in Dearborn and our schools are sinking to the levels of lesser surrounding districts we need to look to what made us a great district. Kids graduate today with unlimited knowledge about keyboards and how to deal with a Bully in 10 different ways, but the don't know how to write a simple letter, review a book and they sure can't balance a check book.
Millie February 13, 2012 at 02:08 PM
This is ridiculous. Another sad sign that our world has gone way too far in being Politicaly correct. How sad that children are no longer allowed to be children. Gone will be the days two kids can celebrate with a hug. Two best friends can't join hands on the way to lunch. Picture your own childhood school days if you will dear administrators. Maybe you did not get enough love as children. God bless the Dearborn students. They are going to need it!
marooned in Dbn February 13, 2012 at 02:15 PM
I agree. This sounds like malevalent social engineering. What do the social scientists intend with this policy ? If students cant occasionaly hold anothers hand, give each other a congratsulatory hug, ect, doesn't that sound like an attempt to make us a little less human ? What, is facebook, as far as they are concerned, all thats needed for social interaction. No wonder there are so many socially maginalised/handicapped people out there. You might as well abolish HS proms as well. (remember...ppl hold each other when danceing "slow" ones. This, dare I say it, could even be a so-called "gay agenda" to discourage normal opposite sex attractions. ( start em' out young) . NO, we dont need any more "intervention programs", they all ultimately fail anyway. It seems that our society is becomming ever so more tightly controled. I refuse to participate. Social programs such as these are tyranny.
Lee Jacobsen February 13, 2012 at 03:41 PM
Have faith folks! The administrators did mention the phrase 'common sense ' somewhere in that explanation above? Or did they? Intertwining nationalities should prove interesting. What would they do in Europe, stop kissing on each side of the cheek in a greeting? No more shaking hands? Actually, that is a good idea as it prevents human contact and the spread of disease. We can always adopt the Japanese way of greeting, with polite bows. Many countries just use isolation to keep students minds on education, back to all boys and girl's schools. Of course, in today's tech society, the kids are already way ahead of the administrators on this issue, they will be holding hands, and more, via their cell phones, and don't forget the dress code, it could be a lot worse than public showings of affection, as this video illustrates...... http://mail.aol.com/35478-211/aol-6/en-us/mail/get-attachment.aspx?uid=29134041&folder=%2fSaved%2fZ+File&partId=3&saveAs=Why_Schools_Require_Shirts_to_be_Tucked_in.wmv When our kids catch up to the rest of the world with respect to education, they will be then smart enough to acquire a little common sense with respect to PDA. The key word is 'public'. Privately, the students are having a field day, and education for many of them is not a priority, at least for some students.
City of Dearborn (Editor) February 13, 2012 at 04:38 PM
Common sense, yes, but what is "inappropriate" to one person may be completely acceptable to another - that's where the debate lies. Does it make sense to leave interpretation up to teachers and staff, or should the rules be more clear cut?
Rich February 13, 2012 at 05:16 PM
Unfortunately 'common sense' is NOT common anymore. ALL it takes is for ONE person to comment that something is inappropriate and the whole world jumps to prevent it from happening again. This is happening almost every week in our world.
marooned in Dbn February 13, 2012 at 06:28 PM
Define the definition of the phrase "common sense". Your definition is surely going to be different than someone else's. (esp. those with a nefarious agenda) Sort of like the word "may", a word abused and twisted, by "state" authorities and employers in every rules and regulations handbook. A word that rhymes with "may" is "gay". A once beautiful word that has been hijacked and trashed by others with an agenda. I swear that these ppl NEVER sleep/rest, in thinking of new concoctions to oppress us. All I can tell ya'll to do is resist.
marooned in Dbn February 13, 2012 at 06:59 PM
Dear Editor Jessica: "common sense", can only be instilled in kids, by interested parents/guardians, who themselves know good from bad, right from wrong, and have a constant contact with their kids. Part time parents will not be so effective in this task. Thats why parents must be involved with their children, in the home primarily,on an hour by hour basis. You say, "what is inappropriate to one person, may be acceptable to another", while in some instances true, is also a dangerous generalisation. Never just assume. (eg. some mis-informed ppl "generalise that most mid-eastern girls are "demurre,and of a higher "standard"), than similar "American" girls. Not true. For an example, I offer our past Miss USA, and there are many more. No matter how well we try to instill "values" into our kids, there will be a few cases where efforts come to naught. This is called "humanity". "Teachers" and "staff", cannot be sole arbiters of whats "common sense" and "values". And, I dont trust any of them to be so.
Jim February 13, 2012 at 09:50 PM
Fewer public displays of affection........will lead to MORE public displays of ANGER
Lee Jacobsen February 13, 2012 at 09:56 PM
What is common sense? One definition (world wide version) is: "the basic level of practical knowledge and judgment that we all need to help us live in a reasonable and safe way." With that in mind, it is reasonable and safe for students to hold hands between classes, but 'unsafe' to procreate in the hallways , at least in public. That activity leads to other consequences, all dire and not common sense. However, it appears that the current govt, with free handouts to make such procreation safer, is fighting common sense that the parents are trying to instill in their children, so just what are our teachers teaching our children? There are some mixed messages here. Do 'home schooled' students have these problems? By the way, home schooled students seem to be awfully bright, having won the National spelling bees etc more times than naught. Perhaps the parents should become more involved. Are parents allowed to attend schools and observe the classrooms and procedures?? In private schools, that is the norm. How so in public schools.? Which system has more common sense, public or private.? Which involves parents more in the system? Private of course, and the results generally reflect the involvement with higher marks and performance.
Saint Mark February 13, 2012 at 10:38 PM
Many years ago when I was in school,(it would certainly be in-appropriate today), it was never considered immoral, sexual or abusiive, to snap a towel on one of your teamates butt in the shower. Or have a group hug before a game . What is the matter with people today?
Richard Olsen February 13, 2012 at 11:23 PM
If you are looking for sense, common or good, schools today are the wrong places to be looking. Students generally have better sense than the administrators, and the teachers are caught in "no man's land", charged with imparting nonsense to the young who recognize it for what it is and ignore it.
gb February 13, 2012 at 11:26 PM
Does this mean that teachers can no longer have sex with students????
Dennis Ludwig February 14, 2012 at 12:17 AM
No holding hands because times have changed. Give me a break, if you want to talk this crap find some idiot who has similiar limited thought process.
Fred February 14, 2012 at 12:43 AM
"...Dearborn Public Schools Tighten Rules on PDA ..." Seems to me that they might better spend their time and effort getting rid of incompetent teachers. After all, we the taxpayers pay for an "education" for our children, not to have them harassed for holding hands (among other things).
Bob February 14, 2012 at 01:13 AM
I don't understand why there isn't one policy across all the schools. What is the difference between Stout and Smith and Bryant? Why does Stout need "stricter guidelines"? Seems to me they should all be the same. What exactly is this policy anyway? Not many details given in the article.
Danielle February 14, 2012 at 01:30 AM
i kinda like this one... i have an overly-affectionate 5 yr old, and one on the way.... we should have seen an issue, as at home, my daughter sometimes asks for hugs and kisses more than 6 or 8 times in an hour. some of you parents out there will say 'whats wrong with that?' well, sometimes when you are washing dishes, or chewing, or having an important conversation on the phone, its not appropriate to constantly have to hand out hugs and kisses. more importantly, it carried over to school. in preschool, we put up with it. but then in kindergarten, she was still grabbing on to friends, girls AND boys, as well as teachers who she had barely spent time with... some of her peers didnt respond well, either... we try to teach our child that affection is something that is given out in love, and we dont need to feel love towards EVERYbody that we meet... i think this is important because down the road she will be dating, and who knows how many guys she thinks she loves, and what else she thinks is ok to hand out with those 'affections...'
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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