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No-touching policy spurs student protest

Noelle Frampton, March 26, 2009

MILFORD -- In protest against a no-touching policy at East Shore Middle School, an eighth-grade student vows to attend school Friday morning wrapped in blue duct tape.

Several recent groin-kicking incidents, one of which necessitated emergency personnel being dispatched to the school last week, resulted in student suspensions. A letter sent home by the school administration after the incident, however, has raised ire for what some see as an overly strict interpretation of the school policy banning physical contact between students.

"Physical contact is prohibited to keep all students safe in the learning environment and to promote continuous student achievement," wrote school Principal Catherine Williams and Assistant Principal Amy Fedigan.

The letter cites prohibited behavior that includes pushing, shoving, groin-kicking, "hugging and horseplay," and warned that, depending on the circumstances, students who violate the rules may face detention, suspension or even expulsion. It was prompted by two groin-kicking incidents that parents said involved a girl and two or three boys.

Williams said the letter simply reminded parents of district-wide rules on student conduct outlined in the middle school student handbook, which bans inappropriate and malicious physical contact.

Reading it to mean all forms of touching are punishable is "misinterpretation or a child's interpretation," the principal said, indicating that school staff members make judgment Advertisement calls about whether certain physical contact is positive or negative.

"I'm only concerned about unsafe behaviors."

Supt. of Schools Harvey Polansky echoed that concept, saying the letter was designed to reinforce policies that correct careless adolescent behavior.

"There's a certain pragmatism that's going to be involved as the principals sort out the behavior," he said. "We want to create a positive atmosphere, and if students want to high-five each other, we think that's appropriate."

Eighth-grader Patrick Abbazia, 14, said East Shore staff members strictly forbade any touching, and he's going "to make a stand against this rule."

"I have incidents all day long where I'm told, 'Don't touch whatsoever,' " he said. "I even have a couple of teachers who've pulled me aside and said, 'Don't high five, I'll have to report you.' Even a pat on the back has gotten to the point where teachers are questioning it. I feel less safe walking through the halls than I did when people were pushing. The rule itself is way out of hand."

So Abbazia decided to follow through on his mother's idea and tape his arms to his body at the elbow with duct tape as an act of protest. He said if any teachers object, he'll tell them to call his mother.

Abbazia's father, Edward, said he and his wife were concerned when they read the letter because it seemed to outlaw the kind of touching that young people -- and humans in general -- need to relate to each other.

"As a parent, I just don't agree with it," he said. "This is going to happen -- they're going to touch each other. My son's going to physically touch his friend, you know, shake his hand or pat him on the back, and he's going to get detention and he knows it, but he's going to do it anyway. He's got a very social life. The letter that came home to me, I think it's directly pointed at my son and not only my son, but all of the kids who would do things like this on a regular basis -- the high fives, the hugging."

The senior Abbazia said he witnessed many fights in his days as a student at Foran High School but never saw the repercussions spill out to the entire school.

"The people making these rules have lost sight of what's really important -- you know, learning, skills that you can take with you " -- interacting with each other and getting along with each other," he said.

PTA Council President Kathy Huber, whose daughter attends East Shore, took a different approach, advising her daughter to adhere to the rule.

"Typically, when anything like that is issued, kids will take offense to it and mock it," she said. "For right now, if that's the way it has to be, so be it. Kids need to be more responsible -- held accountable for their actions. I'm pleased that the administration is handling it."

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