December 11, 2013

Suspension of 6-year-old for kissing girl’s hand sparks debate

Calling it sexual harassment goes too far, the student’s mother says, but the school considers it unwanted touching.

The Associated Press

DENVER — The suspension of a 6-year-old boy for kissing a girl at school is raising questions about whether the peck should be considered sexual harassment.

The boy’s mother said officials at Lincoln School of Science and Technology in Canon City, a southern Colorado city of 16,000, are over-reacting. Jennifer Saunders said her son was suspended once before for kissing the girl, and she was surprised to find out that he would be forced out of school again for several days.

First-grader Hunter Yelton told KRDO-TV that he has a crush on a girl at school and she likes him back.

“It was during class, yeah. We were doing reading group, and I leaned over and kissed her on the hand. That’s what happened,” he said.

Saunders said she saw nothing wrong with her son’s display of affection. She said she punished him for other problems in school, including rough-housing. She was shocked when the school’s principal brought up the term “sexual harassment” during a meeting.

District Superintendent Robin Gooldy said Tuesday that the boy was suspended because of a policy against unwanted touching. “The focus needs to be on his behavior. We usually try to get the student to stop, but if it continues, we need to take action, and it sometimes rises to the level of suspension,” he said.

Dr. David Welsh, a school psychologist, said some policies that bar bullying, harassment and weapons on public school campuses may go too far, but school boards are being forced to develop strict policies and follow them to the letter because of a large number of complaints being reported by students, and teachers who face consequences if they keep silent.

“If you have a policy and procedure and you don’t follow it, it’s hard to defend,” Welsh said. Child psychologist Sandy Wurtele questioned the use of tough love in this case. Wurtele said kissing is normal behavior for children of that age. The suspension “really gives ... negative messages to the kids,” she said.

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