A seventeen-year-old student giving his teacher a hug might not be nearly as self-evidently innocent as one six-year-old kissing another on the cheek, but it's hard to imagine how the action justifies a one year suspension. Via CBS Atlanta:
A Duluth High School senior has been suspended for one year and won't graduate on time for hugging a teacher last month.
Sam McNair, 17, was suspended last week when a school hearing officer found he violated the Gwinnett County Public Schools' rules on sexual harassment…
According to a discipline report, the teacher alleged McNair's cheeks and lips touched the back of her neck and cheek.
McNair denied he kissed his teacher or sexually harassed her.
McNair said he regularly hugs his teachers and has never been disciplined for it in the past.
According to the discipline report, the teacher alleged she warned McNair that hugs were inappropriate but he disputes that.
April McNair, Sam's mother, said she was dumbfounded when she was informed of the suspension and believes the district had a responsibility to notify her if her son's hugging was becoming problematic before it suspended him and derailed his college plans.
You can watch surveillance video of the hug that's part of the news segment here (screen capture's to the right).
McNair's mother makes a salient point. A one-year suspension for a non-violent act is certainly a gross over-reaction, more so given that McNair appears to have been otherwise scheduled to graduate at the end of the school year, even if he had previous (non-sexual harassment related) suspensions. His mother even believed her son, a student athlete, may have been able to qualify for college sports scholarships, a hypothesis that won't even be able to be tested now. And Sam McNair won't get as much "due process" for the claim of sexual harassment against him as teachers tend to.
The whole premise of public schools is to offer universal access to education. Some opponents of charter schools complain that their ability to "select" students contributes to disparities in access to education. The argument is flimsy. Around the country, school choice is becoming more popular. In two of New Jersey's poorest cities, Newark and Camden, a full one in five students now attend a charter schools, much to the satisfaction of those students' parents. Demand for charter schools almost always outpaces supply, which is artificially throttled by government restrictions. But here's a public school that's decided to deny a student access to education for an entire year for something that didn't physically harm anyone or anything, for something, in fact, that some teachers advocates actually encourage. "Hug a teacher today", after all, is a thing, one for which restrictions clearly apply.