After Monday’s discussion with Melissa Coulter about her daughter, Megan, being punished for hugging some friends at school, I invited Mascoutah Schools Superintendent Dr. Sam McGowan onto my show to explain the policy.

It became immediately clear that McGowan is a “rules are rules” and “this is the way it’s been for a long time” kind of guy. When I challenged him — saying the rule was bad, not the people — he was not happy.

He started off by saying that he could’t speak about Megan’s case specifically because of Illinois state law, but later did exactly that. When I pointed this out, he denied doing it. He also claimed that Megan’s hug brought “discredit to the person and the school” (a patently ridiculous argument), and that public displays of affection are banned in the academic area because schools are about learning. But Megan’s punishment was for hugging a friend outside the school on the way to the bus stop, not in a classroom or even in the hallway.

McGowan also seemed thrown when I asked why two football players can hug after scoring a touchdown but two friends can’t hug in the cafeteria after acing a tough exam. If the rule applies to everywhere on school property, what’s the difference?

Surely, there are physical acts that are inappropriate in a school setting. You don’t want kids making out against the lockers or holding hands in class, and you certainly have to guard against unwanted touching of any kind, as sexual harassment. But when two friends hug after school on a Friday afternoon before they part for the weekend, who is harmed and how is the school discredited?

This is a bad rule, badly applied. In enforcing the rule with zero tolerance, the district takes away the ability of the adults in the school to judge what’s appropriate and what’s not — teachers who know their students and judge them every day. Again, in our discussion, McGowan explained why judgement can’t play a part in the application of the rule, but when I bring it up later, he denies that’s the case.

It’s apparent in talking to McGowan that he’s the kind of guy who is not used to being challenged or having someone disagree with him publicly. I think he needs a hug.

Melissa Coulter says she’s appealing her daughter’s punishment (two days of after-school detention, which she served Monday and Tuesday) in an attempt to get the rule changed. I hope she gets a lot of support from other parents in Mascoutah.

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