Q. For several years my freshman and sophomore history students and I have disagreed over my rule against exchanging gifts in public.

Every Christmas several girls ooh and aah as they unwrap stuffed animals or jewelry gifts from their dearest friends. I think this activity not only intrudes upon learning but also demonstrates a disregard for the feelings of other students.

I have suggested that such exchanges should be done at home or in the cafeteria.

They point out that they can't drive to one another's houses. They also counter with the fact that some students give small presents to teachers and that classes sometimes give presents to teachers.

We have decided to let you settle the argument.

A. Miss Manners appreciates the fact that you have been teaching these girls the techniques of debate. They are doing very well in arguing an untenable position.

What do you mean, they can't drive to one another's houses? That they can't drive? Perhaps not. But they go to one another's houses, surely -- or at any rate manage to visit somewhere outside the classroom.

Their objection is therefore irrelevant. Exchanging presents in front of nonparticipants is rude, and you must insist that they do this on their own time.

This rule also applies to private gifts from students to particular teachers. But when an entire class gives a teacher a present, it does not come under this rule, because it does involve everyone present.

Q. My son was terribly burned in an unfortunate experiment involving gasoline. Strangers from all over the area donated money to a trust fund established for him, and gave blood to aid his survival.

I have been given a list of all the donors. Thanking all of these members of the community would make writing thank-yous for a party of 200 a piece of cake. Also the care of this child is physically demanding, as is the care of his siblings, who are just recovering from witnessing the tragedy.

Would it be incorrect to write a letter to the editor of the local paper to say thank you? Obviously we could not afford to take out an ad or to do anything requiring an expenditure. There will be 18 months of physical therapy before my son is free again to be a "regular guy."

P.S. A note to those who see a child in strange garments and braces: If you must stare at him, be brave enough to ask him what happened. He'd be glad to tell you. Simply being stared at is very painful to one who was just like you until a few months ago. Children ask, but adults are so rude.

A. Even Miss Manners, who is deaf to the pleas of brides and others who plead thank-you fatigue, admits that thanking a whole town individually is a formidable chore.

But although she does not object to the letter-to-the-editor approach, she would like to see it supplemented. It is no trivial thing to establish a trust fund for a nonrelative, and it should not be dismissed in one letter.

Surely there are people among your benefactors who have asked what they can do to help. Letters along the lines of "Mrs. Rockfort has asked me to express her profoundest gratitude ... " would serve, if they note that the crisis care of your children prevents you from writing yourself.

As for your admonition to those who stare, it is not strong enough. Staring at anyone is rude. But so is expressing that curiosity with questions.

Your child's story is his to confide or not as he chooses, not an adventure whose details can be demanded by anyone who wants to hear them.

Feeling incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of this newspaper.