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Student suspended for sexual harassment after hugging teacher

GEORGIA — To Sam McNair, a 17-year-old high school senior in Duluth, Georgia, it was an innocent hug.

“You never know what someone’s going through,” McNair told CNN affiliate WGCL in Atlanta. “A hug might help.”

It didn’t in this case because after McNair hugged a teacher, he ended up with a year-long suspension from Duluth High School, putting his college plans in jeopardy.

“He’s a senior; he plays football. He was getting ready for lacrosse season, and you are stripping him of the opportunity to even get a full scholarship for athletics for college,” April McNair, Sam’s mother, told WGCL.

The elder McNair, who says she and her son call themselves huggers, said she was dumbfounded to learn of her son’s suspension after hugging a teacher. (We were not able to reach the McNairs for comment. We sent April McNair a message via Facebook but have not heard back.)

Surveillance video captures the hug in question, showing Sam placing his arms around the teacher and giving her a hug. The teacher then pushes him away.

According to a discipline report obtained by WGCL, the teacher said Sam’s lips and cheeks touched her neck and that she had warned Sam about hugging in the past.

Asked if he kissed the teacher, Sam told the television reporter he did not. He said he has hugged teachers many times before, including this teacher, and has never been warned.

In a statement, Sloan Roach, a spokesperson for the Gwinnett County Public Schools, told CNN, “Hearing officers consider witness testimony, a review of the known facts, and a student’s past disciplinary history — including long-term suspensions that result in alternative school placement — when determining consequences.”

“If a parent has concerns about the outcome of a panel, he or she is entitled to appeal the decision to the Gwinnett County Board of Education,” Roach added.

Since this is a discipline issue, the law prohibits the district from sharing details about the student’s situation or the student’s past discipline history, said the spokesperson.

Sam told WGCL he does have a discipline record and previous suspensions but not for sexual harassment.

“I have five months left in my senior year. I don’t see why they would take that away from me,” said Sam.

His mother plans to appeal the school board’s decision and said the school should have notified her if there were any problems with his hugging before suspending him and threatening his college future.

On her Facebook page, she posted a Change.org petition, calling for the school district to “revisit a year-long suspension for hugging a teacher.” The petition had more than 200 signatures as of Monday evening.

Reaction online has been mixed, with many believing the punishment might be severe but raising questions about Sam’s prior history.

“Our zero tolerance is taken a bit too far, but I have to reserve my comments since I am curious what his ‘previous records’ of suspension were about, as well as his disciplinary record,” said Sue Scheff, a parenting advocate.

“But I don’t think hugging constitutes sexual harassment unless he has intent otherwise and it doesn’t seem that way,” said Scheff.

Some commenters said the allegation that the teacher raised the issue before with Sam was a key point.

“If she has warned him before and he did it again and his hand or face touches her where she believes it’s inappropriate, like (the) neck or breast, it’s textbook sexual harassment,” said a viewer on WGCL’s website.

But said another commenter, “This is crazy. Now we can’t hug people anymore. What in the world?”

“Something so, so innocent can be perceived as something totally opposite,” said Sam.

11 comments

  • Psy-Ko Smiley

    I feel bad for the kid, he probably meant no harm but in his own words “You never know what someone’s going through,” Thats so very true and it’s possible a person is going through something where that contact could be a scary thing. I never have been a huggie person, I mean it’s ok when family or a very close friend give me a hug. I cringe though when it’s someone I don’t feel close to. I don’t think I’d press a harassment charge but like some others said in the article it depends what has come before. If she has told him before not to hug her then he should not have been putting his hands on her at all.

    I can’t help but think though if I was the teacher I’d rather graduate him and get him out of there then have him around the school for another year.

  • Melissa

    I think its more of the teacher trying to protect herself as well. I’m sure she’s not against hugs from people, but was probably told and trained by the school board, that there is to be no contact between students even if it means giving them a pat on the back for a job well done. This can be interpreted the wrong way by the student or other students reporting it, and could cost a teacher her job, whether the allegations are true or not. It seems there are cameras around the school, so it’s either she makes a complaint or her job could potentially be on the line. Very sad it has to be that way. I really hope it’s not that way in kindergarten, where a 5 year old comes up to the teacher and asked to be hugged or want to give a hug, and the teacher responds(or has to respond), “no, don’t touch me”…

    • athynz

      I have a feeling this is closer to the truth than either him harassing her or her not wanting him to give her an innocent hug.

  • anonymous

    SO basically it is a he said…she said. And because the teacher is an “ADULT” and the student is a “STUDENT” the teacher wins and the student gets suspended fora year and ruining his life for the next several years. Come on people…even if he did “Kiss’ her an ENTIRE YEAR for punishment that is just way too much! Get over yourselves…and yet a boy who KILLS four in a DWI car accident gets probation. This country needs to wake up!

  • Lesley

    I don’t think you can see any thing where a kiss was involved. You can’t tell in the video and she could feel his cheek because she has no hair on her neck! This should be interesting

  • Kerfos

    So if you have to warn your co-worker multiple times not to touch you and then he comes from BEHIND… who hugs from behind? Only intimate partners. You’d report it to HR in a heart beat.

    She immediately pushed him away. Is this welcome contact? A sweet hug to make her day? No, it was harassment, period. A teacher or anyone has a right to not be touched, just like you do. No means no… or are you waiting until he catches her alone after school???

    If he doesn’t learn that he can’t touch just because he wants to, he will have a lot more problems than suspension. Is he hugging his male teachers to make their day?

  • Robin Michelle Zachery

    It’s plain to see that the way he hugged, upper on top of the shoulders that it was a completely innocent hug. No harm meant on his part. Her reaction was also normal but could have used some compassion along with it instead of hurting him. She could have simply told him to not hug her because people could make a big deal about it and thank him for his concern. It’s just to easy now days for people to misunderstand situations due to the increase in bad behavior.

  • Paula Kennedy

    You know I have numerous problems with my child being in the middle of an unruly class and am told “it’s a sign of the times” but an innocent hug gets you suspended for a year??? Maybe I will advise the ill mannered kids to go hug the principal and problem solved. Unreal what this Country is becoming and I for one am ready to pull my child and home school. I have had it with politically correct replies, how teachers are overworked, have to many stidents to discipline them all, and that they can not control 25 nine year old kids. Really, simple solution, suspend their butts!!! This young man meant no harm and may need to be told if he does this again, he will not be allowed back in the school.

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