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February 14, 2000 03:38am
School wants to kiss off public displays of affection
Source: Providence Journal
by: Marisa Katz

(SOMERSET, MA) -- ``Kiss Me'' say the powdery pastel candy hearts students at Somerset High School send each other today in honor of Saint Valentine.

Administrators, though, are hoping the students don't take the hearts literally -- not while they're in school.

Public displays of affection, such as kissing, are frowned on in the halls of Somerset High. In fact, a new policy in next year's Student-Parent Handbook will ban what students call PDA altogether.

``We try to project to our kids that we want them to mutually respect one another as well as the faculty,'' Principal Donald Rebello said. ``This is just not appropriate in the corridors of the high school.''

Most students give the impression that public displays of affection are not prevalent in the school.

``There's a few people who do it, but it's not a big thing,'' freshman Rebecca Boulanger said. ``It's not like you can't walk down the hall and not see somebody kissing.''

``There are some people smooching and holding hands,'' junior Kerri Sutherland said. ``But they're not up on each other.''

Rebello admitted that excessive romantic gestures haven't been a big problem of late. But after a number of teachers reported incidents to the administration, the High School Advisory Committee decided it would be good to set down some guidelines.

The wording of the policy will be vague, he said, and it will be up to administrators to determine when students are going too far.

Personally, Rebello said, he doesn't have a problem with hugging, holding hands or linking arms. But students doing more than that will be given a warning. Punishment for multiple offenses, he said, will be decided if it ever gets to that point.

Senior Audrey Patten, a member of the advisory board, said she supports the ban.

``There have been incidents, like at any high school, where there have been disgusting displays of affection in public,'' she said. ``I think a policy is sensible within reason.''

Other students say the administration is wasting its time.

``It's just a kiss, it's no big deal,'' said freshman Heather Rita, who says she will continue to give her boyfriend, sophomore Tony Rego, pecks between classes.

Junior Leighann Sullivan agreed: ``If I actually had a boyfriend, I would definitely make out with him in the halls.''

Sophomore Andrew Greenwood had a slightly more sympathetic attitude toward the administration.

``I'm assuming they're trying to take away distractions, so I can see where they're coming from,'' he said. ``But a couple is naturally going to want to kiss once in a while. I don't think there should be disciplining against it.''

To freshman Crystal O'Connell, the new rule seems to be part of a pattern: ``They banned hats, now they're banning kissing. What else are they going to ban?''

``I think people should be able to express themselves,'' she added. ``Our parents can kiss at weddings and stuff in front of us. Why can't we kiss in front of them?''

The Massachusetts chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union doesn't have a strong stance on kissing bans, ACLU lawyer Sarah Wunch said.

There are, however, legal cases that have come out of such rules in other states.

Most notably, in 1998, a teenage couple received national attention after being expelled from a Catholic school in Maryland for 10 minutes of ``kissing and holding hands'' that progressed to ``heavy petting'' after school.

The suit, protesting the expulsion and charging that the black teens suffered racial discrimination at the mostly white school, was dismissed, though the students didn't return to the school.

Locally, kissing bans have been on the books at some schools for several years.

``Ninety-nine out of 100 times I see it,'' said Joseph D. Santos, principal of Case High School in Swansea, ``I just remind them that there's a time and a place for everything and this is not the time or the place.''

Seekonk High School Principal Russ Goyette said that in eight years, he's only had to call the homes of one tongue wrestling couple.

``If a couple of kids are mugging it up, sometimes I walk by and say, `ahem.' If I've caught them a second time, I'll say, `Hey, hey, cut that out you guys.' If it's more than that, I'll take them aside and give them a 10-cent lecture about how it's much more meaningful if you share it together and not in front of the entire student body.''



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