The following article originally appeared in The Waco Tribune at the url, which link is now defunct. I have archived the text of the article because I originally linked to it from my post *****Start***** Hug lands 4-year-old in suspension

Sunday, December 10, 2006

By Emily Ingram

Tribune-Herald staff writer

When a Bellmead father received a letter from his son’s school district saying the 4-year-old had inappropriately touched a teacher’s aide, he said he couldn’t believe what he was reading.

“When I got that letter, my world flipped,” DaMarcus Blackwell said.

The Nov. 13 letter from La Vega Independent School District stated his son, who was 4 years old at the time, was involved in “inappropriate physical behavior interpreted as sexual contact and/or sexual harassment” after the boy hugged a teacher’s aide and “rubbed his face in the chest of (the) female employee” on Nov. 10.

The letter also stated Blackwell’s son, who Blackwell requested not be named in this story for privacy reasons, spent the day in in-school suspension (ISS) as punishment for the incident.

Blackwell has since filed a complaint with the district.

In turn, the district changed the offense to “inappropriate physical contact” and removed references of sexual contact or sexual harassment from the boy’s file, according to a subsequent letter from the district.

Still, Blackwell said the change isn’t enough.

Putting out six bananas on the table, he asks, “What do you see? You say you see six bananas, but I say no, it’s half a dozen. That’s the same thing with this. Call it what you want, it’s the same thing.”

Blackwell and his wife, Patricia, say their son does not know why he was sent to ISS.

Blackwell said school officials may have told him the reason for the punishment, but they say as parents, they should have been there when the punishment was explained.

A letter from the school district said efforts to telephone the parents about the incident failed.

Still, Blackwell said the district should have made more of an effort to include the parents in the issue.

School officials refused to comment on the incident, referring to student privacy laws.

Al Bishop, La Vega ISD assistant superintendent for personnel and administration, said he could comment only on the policy.

According to the district’s student handbook, Bishop said, there are no specific rules or guidelines referring to contact between teachers and students.

There is a general statement, though, that says inappropriate physical contact will result in a discipline referral, he said.

While the handbook does not state what is inappropriate, Bishop conceded that determination came to a judgment call by school officials.

Bishop said a discipline referral goes into a student’s discipline file, which is a part of the personal file.

Not all discipline referrals go into a student’s permanent record, and each year the student’s discipline file is removed, kept for one to two years and then destroyed, he said.

In the Blackwell’s case, Bishop said he could not comment on whether a discipline referral was a part of the boy’s permanent record.

Blackwell could not clarify whether the discipline report went into the boy’s permanent record.

Regardless of where the report was filed, Blackwell said, the issue for him is that his son was punished for an act he is too young to understand.

The question of whether a touch is meant inappropriately or is an innocent gesture by a young child is not as easily answered through a checklist of factors, said David Davis, executive director of the Advocacy Center for Crime Victims & Children in Waco.

“A lot of variables come into play,” Davis said, adding he doesn’t know the details of Blackwell’s son’s incident.

Variables such as age, maturity and exposure to factors like pornography or even molestation, influence whether a touch is innocent or not, he said.

In the recent case of a La Vega Independent School District elementary student who allegedly inappropriately touched a teacher’s aide, Davis said the things to consider are not as much the gestures themselves as the behavior afterward.

“It’s a concern if a child didn’t respond to redirection,” Davis said. “I would be more concerned about a child’s response to limits set by an adult more than the touch itself.”

Davis said some young children touch — sometimes inappropriately — out of curiosity.

When told they have done something inappropriate, a child who was acting out of curiosity would then typically withdraw or act embarrassed and respond to the redirection, Davis said.

A child whose actions were deliberately inappropriate would act compulsively, aggressively or through manipulation, Davis said.

The child would not respond to redirection, and his or her actions would continue.

While a touch could be read as innocent or inappropriate, “it is the behavior itself” that must be evaluated, Davis said.