The Colorado school district that flagged a 6-year-old boy for sexual harassment for kissing a female classmate has backed away from the decision, opting to label the incident as "misconduct" instead.
First-grader Hunter Yelton was suspended for two days after kissing a girl on the cheek and hand at Lincoln School of Science & Technology in Canon City, about an hour southwest of Colorado Springs.
His mother, Jennifer Saunders, was outraged, particularly by the sexual harassment note that was added to her son's school record.
“How can you do this? How can you say this about my child? Remove sexual harassment, remove it from his record. I’m going to stand up and fight for him because that’s not the case, that’s not what happened at all,” Saunders said.
Saunders told the Canon City Daily Record that while she thought the suspension was appropriate, the sexual harassment note is not.
"He is 6 years old, and that is absolutely ridiculous for him to have 'sexual harassment' on his record, even if it is [only on the district's] record."
The school district said in a statement to KDRO-TV in Colorado Springs that after a meeting with Hunter's parents, it agreed to "change the category of the disciplinary offense from 'sexual harassment' to 'misconduct'. The student has returned to school."
The mother of the girl who was kissed by Yelton said they were just the actions of a "little boy" but defended the school district's actions.
"He's being silly and he's being naughty," Jade Masters-Ownbey, a math teacher in the Canon City School District, told KKTV-TV, "and he needs to learn not to do that. But there's forgiveness and it shouldn't be a huge story. It's a small thing, it's a school district doing what they're supposed to do."
Masters-Ownbey wrote on her Facebook page that she hoped people would support the school and officials who were just trying to do their job and "focus on learning in a safe environment."
Saunders, Hunter's mother, said her son kissed the girl on the cheek in November and then again on the hand Dec. 4, the Daily Record reported, adding Yelton was given in-school suspension for the first offense and a two-day suspension for the second.
"It was during class, yeah. We were doing reading group and I leaned over and kissed her on the hand. That's what happened," Hunter told KDRO. "They sent me to the office, fair and square. I did something wrong and I feel sorry."
While Masters-Ownbey said the kissing was unwanted, Saunders had a different impression.
"She was fine with it, they are ‘boyfriend and girlfriend.’ The other children saw it and went to the music teacher," she told KDRO. "That was the day I had the meeting with the principal, where she first said 'sexual harassment.' This is taking it to an extreme that doesn't need to be met with a 6-year-old. Now my son is asking questions -- 'what is sex, Mommy?' That should not ever be said, sex. Not in a sentence with a 6-year-old."
But Masters-Ownbey described the kissing much differently on Facebook: "Not once but over and over... not with her permission but sneaking up on her... not without warning and consequences prior to suspension."
She added that she "had to put restrictions" regarding who her daughter interacts with at school and "had to coach her about what to do when [you] dont [sic] want someone touching [you] but they won't stop. Her big brother has even felt like he needed to protect her at school."
"In elementary school, when a boy kisses a girl the usual response of their peers is oooooooooo... so [why] do the other kids rush to tell? Because they've seen it over and over, they've seen him repeatedly get in trouble for it, they've seen the girl repeatedly tell him to stop, they know [it's] wrong. I seriously hope people [are] not going to start bashing the school that is [doing] a great job protecting my child from what IS SEXUAL HARASSMENT!" she posted.
School District Superintendent Robin Gooldy told the Daily Record that the district's sexual harassment policy fit what Hunter did: "Unwelcome touching, such as patting, pinching or repeated brushing against another's body."
Principal Tammy DeWolfe told the Daily Record on Tuesday that the school would "never suspend a student for one minor little violation," noting that usually there's a string of incidents that warrant suspensions.
The 6-year-old boy has reportedly had previous discipline issues at school, including a suspension for roughhousing; Saunders indicated they were working to improve her son's behavior.
“We've been working with him with the classroom disruption. He was grounded for a while. Big restrictions," Saunders told KDRO.
When Hunter was asked by a KDRO reporter if he was "trying to be good at school," he replied: “Yes … I have a lot of energy. I mean 6 year olds? They have a lot of energy."
Here's the latest report from KKTV:
Here's the original report from KDRO: