March 21 2013

Culture of Alarmism: Hugs, Parents?

Julie Gunlock

A school in southern Maryland has taken the brave step to ban such dangerous school activities as hugging, parental visits at lunch and recess, and the scourge of children handing out birthday invitations at school.

Well THANK GOODNESS!  It is about time! Praise the Lord and pass the nanny statism! Our children are saved…SAVED from the ravages of the cuddle and kindness culture! Hallelujah!!

The original story reports that these rules are already in effect:

New rules for visitors to St. Mary’s County public elementary schools ban hugs and homemade food to anyone other than a parent’s own child.

The guidelines, which are now in effect, limit the activities of some volunteers, school officials said, but are needed to ensure a safe environment.

A committee of several parents and principals from elementary schools in St. Mary’s County met four times last fall to review and recommend new best practices for schools to follow. The new guidelines limit lunchtime and recess visits, ban handing out birthday invitations at school and prohibit visits during the school day by younger siblings.

Perhaps the most astonishing part of this story is that it wasn’t a decision made by some knucklehead school administrator. It was actually made by a panel of parents and a handful of knucklehead school administrators?

Who are these parents? 

And who exactly is running this school? A woman named Kelly Hall, weirdly identified as the “executive director of elementary schools and Title I” (whatever that means!), said of the new rule: “We think it’s the right balance between safety and parental involvement.”

Lucky for her, the reporter didn’t follow up by asking what safety issues usually arise from parental visits, hugging, and invitation distribution.

Sounding super official, chief knucklehead--Superintendent Michael Martirano--declared that the school isn’t “violating anybody’s rights,” and that the school’s legal counsel had looked over the best practices.

Uh huh. That’s super fantastic Mr. Martirano that you sashayed down the hall to the legal department to have your super smart lawyer look over this stinking, rotting pile of idiocy but I bet a few parents’ (that is, the parents with normal brain function who didn’t sit on the official committee that came up with these new rules) chief concerns weren’t about the legal issues involved. In fact, I bet they don’t really care for your legal analysis.

I bet what they’re really interested in knowing is if you actually have a beating heart?  If you and your legal team are able to demonstrate just a teeny weenie bit of common sense? I bet more than a few parents are wondering if you have a wife or a mother and if either one of them has had a chance yet to smack you upside the head for defending this complete nonsense?  I bet a few are wondering if you have kids of your own.

C’mon, Mr. Martirano, were you raised by the Spartans? Did your boyhood inspire Pat Conroy’s The Great Santini?

The only question people should be asking—and that includes the less that winning press who have covered this issue: Who is going to be a grown up and put an end to this unnecessary meddling?

Not surprisingly, the school board is invoking Newtown as the reason for these new regulations.  Nice cover.

Board member Mary Washington said that schools, unfortunately, have become targets of violence in recent years. “We are entrusted to protect all our students,” Washington said of the reason for the new rules.

The committee met and decided on the best practices before the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December that left 26 people dead, including 20 students, Hall said. The schools decided to roll out the new rules immediately.

“Everybody’s anxiety is high,” she said. Still, “we want to be reasonable,” and will leave open the possibility of reworking the rules after they are tried out the rest of this school year, she said.

Umm, might someone point out to these folks that an insane, sociopathic young man killed the children in Newtown, not a parent of a child attending Newtown schools?  It’s irresponsible and frankly macabre to invoke the massacre at Newtown as an excuse to pass these overly prescriptive regulations on the normal activities that go on in schools. 

But again, the weirdest part of this story is that some of the parents in the school actually agree with the new rules (emphasis mine):

Sherry Whittles, a parent of a Town Creek student, said that there were intense discussions over the new rules during the committee meetings. “It is sad that it needs to be done for the safety of our children,” she said, adding that she did not think any of the rules went too far.

The no-hugging guideline could be difficult, she acknowledged, because often it is a child who approaches an adult visitor for a hug.

Yes, robot mommy, one imagines it will be difficult for people to refuse an eager hug-seeking little kid some comfort.  Perhaps teachers should be equipped with their very own straitjackets to assist them in their efforts deny their natural urge to hug a child with outstretched arms? Might help.

So what of the other dangers identified: invitations and parent/sibling visits: Kelly Hall (of “executive director and blah blah” fame) had this to say about the dangers of invitations.

Birthday invitations should not be handed out at school, Hall said, because students who are not invited could have their feelings hurt. She said school PTAs could develop phone and email contact lists, with parents’ approval, to distribute.

Yes of course, let’s make sure to outlaw all things that might hurt a child’s feelings. How about outlawing friendships among certain children (no, no, no…you musn’t exclude creepy, stinky Tommy from your friendship), smiling at certain children (please be sure to smile at everyone Sally, not just your friend Jenny), praising of any kind for good work and good behavior (sure, Jack, you got an A but we musn’t make you feel special!). After all, we wouldn’t want to hurt the feelings of surly, misbehaving children, would we?

Months ago, Charlotte Hays posted a great response to one school’s decision to do away with Father-Daughter dances in order to avoid hurting the feelings of the little girls who didn’t have a daddy at home. Charlotte, who has some experience with this issue, wrote at the time:

As the child of divorced parents, I simply accepted that there would be occasional moments of awkwardness. That was then. This is now: father-daughter dances are no longer permitted at high schools in Rhode Island because some girls might not have fathers.

Food didn’t escape the committee’s attention either.  Under the new rules, food for celebrations is limited to store-bought items that contain ingredient lists so as not to interfere with children’s food allergies, according to the rules.

That’s right. It isn’t the responsibility of the parents of the allergy-riddled child to ensure their child avoids the provided treats; it’s the responsibility of the parent bringing the treat. It’s the responsibility of the teacher to read the (Font .009) ingredient list to determine if little Annie is allergic to lechithin, xanthan gum, and riboflavin.

And let’s wait until the (in this case justified) food nannies get ahold of this story. I’m sure they’ll be thrilled to hear that homemade items are being portrayed as dangerous and that homemade food is discouraged in favor of store-bought, processed items with ingredient lists a mile long that more often than not include hard-to-understand, multiple syllable ingredients.

Reasonable people will laugh at this story but people should be horrified that we simply can’t count on parents to reign in these out of control school administrators anymore. 

The simple and tragic reality is people are actually starting to believe these alarmist claims—that hugging, birthday invitations, homemade cookies, and parent visits in the lunchroom are dangerous!

What poppycock.

Parents should take one thing away from this story: the unreasonableness, the rules, the need to nanny isn’t limited to school administrators and government officials anymore. It’s seeping into the thought process of parents who would normally reject these nonsensical rules and who could generally be counted on for some rational thought.

The culture of alarmism is growing.

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