First I read that a boy in Pennsylvania had used the Internet to contact the Finnish boy responsible for killing eight people and himself at a school near Helsinki, Finland last week. Their online discussion centered on a website that glorified the 1999 Columbine school massacre in Colorado. Next, I read about how rumors of school violence caused many high school students in Tallahassee, FL, to stay home on Monday. Apparently, the widespread fear of an attack prompted many parents to agree with their kids’ decisions. Finally, I came across a piece of news that declared violence is a common problem in high school relationships. After a moment, I took a deep breath and started writing a blog article to address school safety and the important roles that students, parents, and faculty all must play in preventing violence in our nation’s schools.
However, I had barely begun writing before a colleague forwarded me an article from the Associated Press that I had not yet seen. It was about a controversy that had erupted in an Illinois public school district after a student had received detention for giving her friends a hug. According to the article, the hug broke a school rule that bans “public displays of affection.” In an uneventful conclusion, the student served the detention she was ordered and the school made no change in policy.
It was the radical contrast of these articles that was shocking to me, although they all dealt with “school safety” in one way or another. I still find it hard to believe that a student could receive detention for simply giving a hug. I understand the need for school authorities to make sure that students keep their hands to themselves, and I also respect the concern of school administrators to keep their hallways clear of sexual promiscuity. Still, it seems that punishing a student for hugging is a tremendous waste of time and resources, given our nation’s current backdrop of school violence and the fear of violence. And at a time when the traditional notion tying teen sex to juvenile delinquency has been thoroughly debunked, practices like this one feel particularly archaic to me.
All these things took place in the same timeframe: A student serving her detention for displaying affection, an entire high school staying home for fear of violence, and a young boy chatting online, glorifying school shootings. It all makes me wonder: Are we really doing all that we can to make America’s schools safer? It’s time to get our priorities straight.