12/08/2009 05:12 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

School Criticized for "Safe Shakes" Campaign

Utah's Joycelyn Elders Elementary School has become ground zero in a debate over "safe shakes education" -- a campaign encouraging prophylactic measures to protect hand-shaking kids from transmittable viruses.

Created by the school's student council, the safe shakes education program includes posters, flyers, free distribution of hand-sanitizers, and cautionary video testimonials featuring despondent teens wringing their hands over not having washed them. School counselors were also trained to demonstrate proper protective behavior using a "Wet One" and a variety of vegetables.
But shortly after it launched, the effort was met with a fierce "abstinence-only" backlash from parents and community religious groups.

"Just don't touch anyone, period," said one father, adding, "Rampant hand-washing will just make kids want to touch each other even more!"

His 16-year-old daughter disagrees. "You can't tell kids to stop shaking hands. It's just not realistic," she said. "Curious kids will experiment with all kinds of shakes, and not all of it safe -- handshakes, high-fives, fist bumps, you name it. I'm all for protection."

The controversy has attracted national attention. MTV is planning a special Lady Gaga concert at the school to support safe shakes education, while religious leaders are asking kids to pledge their opposition with specially-made Purel-ity rings.

In the meantime, the school's student council has temporarily suspended its safe shakes campaign and replaced it with a more innocent pro-flossing movement called "Think Oral!"

Joel Schwartzberg is a satirist and personal essayist whose book "The 40-Year-Old Version" was released this year.