The hugs were out of control at West Sylvan Middle School in the Portland School District so the principal banned them.

Share story

PORTLAND — The hugs were out of control at West Sylvan Middle School.

Students could not pass each other in the hallway without a hug, the principal said. The girls were hugging one another all the time. Kids were late to class because of the hugs.

Classes would end, middle-schoolers would eye a classmate at the other end of the hallway, “they’d scream, run down the hallway and jump in each other’s arms,” Principal Allison Couch said.

It was, Couch said, a virus of hugs. So the principal banned hugs at school in late February.

The campus of nearly 600 seventh- and eighth-graders joined a growing list of schools nationwide that have halted hugs as well as other behaviors deemed detrimental to teaching and learning.

Couch said she was prompted to act in part because of a school-bus incident that drew police. Though she would not describe what happened, she said no students was harmed.

Also, it appeared to her that some students were hugging others who did not want the sign of affection.

In at least one case, hugging was used as a form of mockery — when two eighth-grade girls hugged a seventh-grade boy, she said.

” ‘They did that to be mean,’ ” Couch said the boy told her later. ” ‘They don’t like me. They did that to be mean.’ “

Also, parents reported that girls were using hugging as a game to see how fast boys could become aroused, Couch said, adding, “I was seeing evidence of it.”

The policy may sound unreasonable to someone outside the school, she said, but if someone filed a lawsuit because of unwanted touching, a bigger news story would have resulted.

The West Sylvan PTA is backing Couch, PTA board member Lee Rumaner said.

But several parents with children in the school in southwest Portland have voiced objections to the hugging ban in blogs and e-mails, he said.

“They have a very strong passion about what they’re saying,” Rumaner said, “but maybe they don’t have the full message she’s trying to give.”

In Rumaner’s view, Couch is doing her job.

“A principal’s role is not to be the best friend in school,” Rumaner said, adding that his seventh-grade son views the no-hug policy as ridiculous.

West Sylvan has plenty of company nationwide. Among schools that have banned hugging or limited the duration of hugs are those in Oak Park, Ill.; Prattville, Ala.; Mascoutah, Ill.; Mesa, Ariz.; Vienna, Va.; Milford, Conn.; Hillsdale, N.J.; and Fort Worth, Texas. In 2005, Sky View Middle School in Bend, Ore., took action, and so has a school in South Australia.