Two Florida teens each received one-day in-school suspensions this week for hugging on school grounds.
Nickolas Martinez, a 14-year-old student at Southwest Middle School in Palm Bay, told Central Florida News 13 he was simply greeting a female friend with a quick hug between classes.
“Heading to my class, I see my friend and I just hug her, then the principal yells from behind me 'come over here' and we both go to the dean's office and he writes us up for in school suspension,” Martinez said.
His mother, Nancy Crescente, told Orlando Fox affiliate WOFL-TV she was furious and couldn't believe it when she got a call from the school Tuesday.
"I thought it was the most bizarre thing I've ever heard," Crescente said. "We're a cultural family and this is what we do."
But according to a district spokeswoman, a committee of parents and teachers approved the "no hugging" policy years ago.
"'Public Displays of Affection' is a school board policy. It relates to kissing and holding hands and hugging. It is a blanket-wide policy across all schools here," Brevard County School spokesperson Christine Davis told WOFL.
The policy is clearly stated in the student handbook, she said, along with the standard one-day in-school suspension punishment for any hugging or hand-holding infraction. The policy doesn't make a distinction between an unwanted hug, like sexual harassment, or a mutual hug between friends.
According to the handbook, kissing will earn students a one-day out-of-school suspension.
"Our focus is on learning; therefore, we cannot discriminate or make an opinion on what is an appropriate hug, what's not an appropriate hug," Davis said. "What you may think is appropriate, another person may view as inappropriate."
Crescente's not buying that argument.
"There's nothing wrong with hugging," she told Orlando's WKMG-TV. "If there's nothing wrong with it in the legal system, why would there be something wrong with it in the school system?"