No hugging, no zeroes: Are new school rules hurting students more than helping them?

Lily Hopkinson, 12, saw that her friend was having a bad day at school, so she offered her friend a hug.

A school official intervened, claiming the action violated the school's new no-touching policy.

The physical-touch ban, a bold attempt at curbing bullying and kissing on school property, has left students and parents outraged.

Today at noon, students at Brampton's Earnscliffe Senior Public School will stage a "hug-in," defying school policy with "some unauthorized hugging."

"There are parts of the rule that we completely understand. We don't want the hurting and the punching and the kicking, and we don't want a boyfriend and girlfriend making out in a corner," Hopkinson told CTV Toronto.

"We want to make a difference, we want to try and change the rule."

Not all bullying is physical — Public Safety Canada includes "verbal actions (threats, name calling, insults, racial or sexual comments), and social exclusion (spreading rumours, ignoring, gossiping, excluding)" in its definition of bullying — nor is all physical touch negative. When a knee-jerk policy bans schoolyard high-fives, awkward school-days dances and reassuring hugs on bad days, everyone suffers.

The no-hugging ban ignores studies that found greater classroom participation from "students who received a supportive touch on the back or arm from a teacher."

The Peel District School Board is certainly not the first to ban hugging. One Australian primary school punishes students with "counselling sessions" if they're caught touching at all. This includes high-fives.

No word on whether conversation will be banned in an attempt to stop swearing and verbal abuse.

This isn't the only new policy in the world of "strange solutions to school problems." To encourage students to finish their work, the Edmonton Public School Board has implemented a no-zero policy.

According to the policy makers, a zero gives the student a reason to quit. An incomplete grade should, instead, create an incentive to catch up on the missing work. So even if a student hands in a test without filling in any answers, he won't be given a zero, despite answering zero questions.

After one teacher, Ross Sheppard High School's Lynden Dorval, was suspended for refusing to adhere to the new no-zero policy, the Edmonton Sun polled its readers — and found that 97 per cent of them believed that a zero is an appropriate mark on an assignment that isn't handed in.

"For about a week, everyone knew about Mr. Dorval's suspension. I wanted to help," said Jacob Garber, a student to started a petition to protest the no-zero policy. "And (the no-zero policy) gives those who do not want to do their work a way out. It is unfair to those who hand in their work on time."

If a school is supposed to prepare its students for the "real world," how is abolishing accurate marks and banning positive touch setting them up to thrive post-classroom?

"Your school may have done away with winners and losers. Life hasn't. In some schools, they'll give you as many times as you want to get the right answer. Failing grades have been abolished and class valedictorians scrapped, lest anyone's feelings be hurt. Effort is as important as results. This, of course, bears not the slightest resemblance to anything in real life," Charles J. Sykes, wrote in his book "50 Rules Kids Won't Learn in School."

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