Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Student suspended for sexual harassment after hugging teacher

By Kelly Wallace, CNN
updated 12:05 PM EST, Tue December 17, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Georgia senior gets year-long suspension after hugging a teacher, WGCL reported
  • Video shows student hugging the teacher, then the teacher pushing him away
  • District: A student's past disciplinary history taken into account
  • Student told WGCL he has discipline record, suspensions but not for harassment

Editor's note: Kelly Wallace is CNN's digital correspondent and editor-at-large covering family, career and life. Read her other columns and follow her reports at CNN Parents and on Twitter.

(CNN) -- 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.

READ: School drops sexual harassment claim against 6-year-old who kissed girl

Teen gets one year suspension for hug
Sexual harassment at six years old?
Generation stressed: teens boiling over
Talking to teens about social media

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.

READ: SOS for stressed out teens

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.

CNN\'s Kelly Wallace reports that online reaction to the case has been mixed.
CNN's Kelly Wallace reports that online reaction to the case has been mixed.

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.

READ: Zero tolerance makes zero sense: Teen punished for helping drunk friend

"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.

Stay in touch!
Don't miss out on the conversation we're having at CNN Living. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for the latest stories and tell us what's influencing your life.

"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.

Follow Kelly Wallace on Twitter and like CNN Living on Facebook.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:25 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Mo'ne Davis is the first girl to throw a shutout in the Little League World Series. She's an inspiration, but will she change the face of the sport?
updated 8:36 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
There is a reason why when people post pictures of themselves during their middle school years on Facebook for "Throw Back Thursday," we all stop and take notice.
It could cost nearly a quarter of a million dollars to raise your child -- and that's not even including college costs, according to new government estimates.
updated 12:09 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
From parent to son, uncle to nephew, there's a raw, private conversation being revived in America in the wake of violence in Ferguson, Missouri.
updated 9:50 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Children sometimes get left out of our conversations about mental illness. The truth is, they suffer too.
updated 5:14 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
CNN's Kat Kinsman says that talking freely about personal mental health and suicidal thoughts can help others.
updated 1:26 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
morning person
Easy tips on how to improve everything from your dinner order to the song in your head to your career.
updated 1:33 PM EDT, Thu August 7, 2014
The case of an Arizona mom who left her kids in a car during a job interview highlights the fluid line between bad parenting and criminal behavior.
updated 3:41 PM EDT, Wed August 6, 2014
A children's book about gun rights has benefited from an unexpected boost in sales after it became the subject of a mocking segment on a talk show.
updated 11:05 AM EDT, Tue August 5, 2014
Some campers and counselors keep the campfire flames burning with summer flings that become lifetime commitments.
updated 7:43 AM EDT, Fri August 1, 2014
After letting her 7-year-old son walk from their home to a park to play, a Florida mother faces up to five years in jail for child neglect.
updated 11:36 AM EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
Lindsey Rogers-Seitz, who lost her son in a hot car, hopes mandatory technology in cars and car seats will stop child death from heatstroke in cars.
updated 10:42 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Not to mention your jeans, bras and pillows? Here's a definitive guide to keeping all your quarters clean.
Imagination Playgrounds have snaking tunnels, platforms and springy mats just like any other playground. But they're different in one fundamental way -- they're built by kids.
updated 11:35 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Grammy Award-winning singer Sarah McLachlan, a 46-year-old divorced mom of two girls, talks about parenting, sex and whether women can have it all.
updated 7:54 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Researchers say physical punishment actually alters the brain.
updated 4:41 PM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
The case of a South Carolina mother arrested for allegedly leaving her 9-year-old daughter at a park while she was working sparks debate over how young is too young to leave a child alone.
updated 11:15 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
CNN's Kelly Wallace reveals 5 common parenting mistakes that many parents admit to making.
updated 8:44 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Is it a bad idea for parents to let kids drink underage at home, or does an early sip make drinking less taboo? Studies are divided on the subject, which is a tough nut for parents to crack.
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Kids who takes cellphones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night
updated 2:40 PM EDT, Tue July 15, 2014
Professional photographer Timothy Archibald uses his camera to connect with his autistic son.
updated 9:16 AM EDT, Mon July 14, 2014
Do you wish you could outsource the summer cooking, cleaning, and camp planning associated with kids? Here are 5 ways to do it -- and why you shouldn't feel guilty about it.
updated 2:52 PM EDT, Tue July 15, 2014
The death of a Georgia toddler in a hot car raises the question: should government or automakers get involved to prevent accidental deaths from heatstroke inside a car?
updated 11:04 AM EDT, Tue July 8, 2014
It's not just the 'baby blues.' Postpartum depression affects about 15% of new mothers. Here's what one 'warrior woman' is doing to fight it.
Post your personal essays and original photos, and tell us how it really is.
updated 10:17 AM EDT, Thu July 3, 2014
What does it mean to run "like a girl"? A new viral video points out that the answer changes depending on whom you ask.
updated 5:22 PM EDT, Tue July 1, 2014
CNN reporter Moni Basu lived in the U.S. nearly 30 years before becoming a citizen. Here's what it meant to pledge her allegiance.
updated 5:07 PM EDT, Tue July 1, 2014
Her daughter was cut from the team. Her son didn't get into that coveted honors class. It was hard but also helpful. Here's how one mom learned to find lessons in failure.
updated 11:56 AM EDT, Mon June 30, 2014
The presence of transgender and gender nonconforming youth at NYC Pride March is latest effort to increase visibility of the transgender community.
updated 6:27 PM EDT, Thu June 26, 2014
A new ad by the hair care company Pantene asks why women are always apologizing and raises the question of whether women say "sorry" more often than men.
updated 8:48 PM EDT, Wed June 25, 2014
The American Academy of Pediatrics announced new guidelines this week urging doctors to tell parents to read to their infants and toddlers.
updated 8:27 AM EDT, Sat June 28, 2014
David Martinez grew up thinking he was just an average American kid. When he learned he was undocumented immigrant, it made him re-examine his beliefs about Mexican identity.
updated 1:47 PM EDT, Mon June 23, 2014
A new survey says that working fathers, like working mothers, find it hard to balance work and family.
updated 6:29 AM EDT, Fri June 20, 2014
Jenny Mollen has no issue tweeting her breastfeeding. The new author talks motherhood and having a (more) famous husband
updated 5:20 PM EDT, Thu June 19, 2014
Experts say "mean girl" behavior begins as young as elementary school. Here's how to prevent raising a mean girl.
updated 6:40 PM EDT, Fri June 13, 2014
While dads today don't get the same respect and attention as moms, and are often depicted as clueless, they've come a long way, baby.
cnn, parents, parenting, logo
Get the latest kid-related buzz, confessions from imperfect parents and the download on the digital life of families here at CNN Parents.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT