Bunbury school stands by "tough" hug rule

A BUNBURY primary school has stuck by its guns against a national backlash for its decision to punish a student for hugging a friend.

The school received letters, phone calls and a barrage of media attention from across the country after Year 6 student Amber Ablett was punished for going against a ‘no hugging’ rule.

The punishment attracted national criticism after it appeared on Sydney-based breakfast program Sunrise and was raised on ABC TV’s Q&A episode on Monday night.

The political forum ended in an unexpected embrace between former Greens leader Bob Brown and WA Premier Colin Barnett when an audience member described the Bunbury school’s rule as a “disgraceful process”.

“Kids should be able to hug each other – can I assure you the state government does not have an anti-hugging policy,” Premier Barnett said.

Dr Brown said he was a “tree hugger from way back” and the school should not “put things in the way of children being able to express friendship.”

Ms Preston argued the rule was a matter of protecting students’ safety and wellbeing and it had been put in place to prevent injuries from “over-enthusiastic” hugs.

“I am not prepared to accept any activity that disrupts student learning, causes pain to students and makes some feel deliberately excluded, and this is what was happening,” Ms Preston said.

Amber’s mother Heidi Rome said she was “dumbfounded” by the decision to reprimand her daughter’s actions.

“It’s not so much the detention – it’s the fact there is this rule and the psychological implications it could have,” she said.

“Target the bullying and not nice, caring behaviour like this – to put a blanket rule over hugging is going too far.”

Bunbury’s Gibson-Princi Therapy Centre psychologist Daniella Princi said research supported the idea that physical touch was important to a child’s development.

“An affectionate cuddle is very beneficial in bringing up positive emotions and improving our frame of mind,” she said.

“Hugging helps people to bond on an emotional level which in turn will increase feelings of safety, security, trust and self-worth.”

Ms Preston invited the school community to voice their concerns at a board meeting next Tuesday.

She said a decision would be made on whether any changes needed to be made to the school rules.

Adam Road Primary School acting principal Gemma Preston sent this letter home to parents and caregivers yesterday:

Dear Parents and Caregivers,  

Adam Road Primary School is committed to providing a kind, caring and safe environment for every student.

To ensure the safety and well-being of all students we regularly review, update and create our school guidelines, rules and plans.

It’s important for the school to re-iterate the reasons for our decision to ban excessive physical contact. I am not prepared to accept any activity that disrupts student learning, causes pain to students and makes some feel deliberately excluded, and this is what was happening. I am sure you will agree that student safety and wellbeing must come first.

It is disappointing that because some students chose to continue this unwanted physical contact, we had to ask that students refrain from hugging each other. It is even more disappointing that within hours of the matter being readdressed, some students continued to ignore teachers’ instructions.

As a caring and inclusive school we encourage students to comfort each other when they are feeling sad or unwell. There has never been any reason why students cannot comfort each other when they need to, and neither is there any problem with children hugging their younger siblings as they drop them off to class when first arriving at school, but when excessive and over-physical contact occurs or when teachers’ instructions are ignored, I trust I have your support in dealing with this as a disciplinary issue.

The rule is part of the school’s Code of Conduct and falls under the school's Managing Student Behaviour plan. Staff at the school continually record and monitor both positive and concerning behaviours, including the impact this has on others, and use this information to develop plans to address these behaviours.

The School Board, which includes representatives from the parent community, are consulted and provide feedback on these plans, including the school’s Managing Student Behaviour plan. I have received a lot of feedback from parents and I am grateful for that input. I invite members of the school community who have concerns to address them to members of the School Board so they can be discussed at the next School Board meeting on Tuesday November 13, 2012.

The Board will consider whether any changes need to be made and the outcome of this meeting will then be shared with the members of our school community.

I hope that you will agree that it is essential for students to respect school rules and the safety of each other. I can assure you that the school has the best interests of students in mind at all times and I trust we, as a community, can work together to reach an appropriate resolution on this matter.

Yours sincerely, 

Gemma Preston, associate principal.

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