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SW Portland School Bans Hugs

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WHEN WEST SYLVAN Middle School Principal Allison Couch decided to ban hugging on campus earlier this month, she felt like she had exhausted all other options.

"If it's a specific group of kids causing a disruption, you can corral them. But this was pretty pervasive," she says.

Couch sent a memo to school district officials expressing concern about a hugging epidemic at the school, and on March 10 she issued a campus-wide ban on all hugging.

While high-fives may have been the greeting of choice in the past, this year Couch says she became concerned when she noticed boys hugging girls—and not just in a friendly way.

"They were hugging sometimes three, four, five, six times in a four-minute passing period," says Couch.

That's not all she saw.

"There was evidence of arousal in our boys," says Couch. "You could see their little... because most of them wear gym shorts. So I'm like... oh my."

Students are markedly less concerned about the hugging epidemic than the school principal.

Hugging is "natural," according to Kylia Bryan, a student at nearby Cedar Park Middle School in Beaverton. "Whenever I see my friends, it's the natural thing to do," she says. "It's mostly girls hugging girls."

The ban has the school's seventh- and eighth-grade students up in arms. A Facebook page named "Stop the Hug Ban at West Sylvan!!" has nearly 700 members—many of whom don't attend the school.

"Ms. Grouch Couch is probably upset cause no one ever hugs her!" posted student Tom Hilton.

Another student, Robin Bolin, wrote, "How the fuck is a petition on Facebook going to motivate an ancient succubus to un-ban hugging?"

Couch, who is 57, says she has not seen the Facebook page. But she recently came across a New York Times article from last spring about a spate of hugging bans in schools across the country, including a middle school in Bend.

Meanwhile, parents think the debate has gotten too much attention.

"The kids have found a way to get a reaction from others and, in this case, even the media," says West Sylvan Parent Teacher Association President Jill Ross. "It is time to let this non-issue go."

Despite how students may feel about her, Couch says she enjoys the students' hijinks.

"They like to see how far the boundaries go," she says. "That's why I like them. They're so darn funny."

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