Student suspended for sexual harassment after hugging teacher

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DULUTH, Ga. -- 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 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, said, "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 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.

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  • Tom Sanders

    This is called political correctness…..this is the result for voting for democrats and media they are the masters of demonizing everything….this is what you voted for…so SHUT UP.

  • Crazy Cat Lady

    “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.”

    So…She pushes him away AFTER his lips and cheek touch her neck, AND has warned about hugging in the past. Yep, you are all right. Just an INNOCENT HUG. <sarcasm off.

    You all need to read the definition of "sexual harassment" before you comment.

  • gormenghastly

    Sue Scheff, a ‘parenting advocate’: “Our zero tolerance is taken a bit too far.”
    Don’t you think a ‘parenting advocate’ should be functionally literate? I do.

  • LW

    What has this world come to? God says LOVE! A hug, really? And the way she pushed him away, sad. Come on people we are a pathetic race! Sad world we are living in! That teacher needs to step up and make things right for this kid! Again, GOD IS LOVE GOD SAYS LOVE this world needs MAJOR help!

  • Jon Wood

    There’s nothing wrong with sharing a hug. But you might want to present yourself in such a way that you know the person is willing to accept the hug. Walking up from behind someone and grabbing them isn’t a real smart way to present a hug to someone. You have no idea how they might react. In this case there was consequences to that action. Present yourself that you’d like to give a hug. If the feeling isn’t the same from the other person walk away and leave them alone would be my advice.

  • jo

    See what happens when they take the pledge out of schools and prayer, maybe they should all hsce school on the internet! No guns no one to hug.

  • Jen

    There should be another form of discipline for this boy not putting his whole future at risk because of a hug. Give him a ticket make him pay a fine, detention, community service. Suspension for a year when he has 5 months left til graduation is a bit much.

    A similar situation happened with my little brother he was a senior with 3 months til graduation, he attended a basketball game after school and “smelled” like marijuana so the school expelled him with out even giving him a drug test or anything. My brother ended up getting his GED, he lost his scholarship, didnt get to walk with his class and graduate with all his classmates and he was a good student and person. ITS A BUNCH OF BULL!!!!

  • Rob

    So everyone here is so quick to judge. But legally and in all seriousness harassment is in the eye of the victim. I do not care who you are you do not walk up to a person in a position of power and from behind hug them and kiss the back of their neck. What would happen is this same teacher did this to the student? Watch the video she gets uncomfortable when first touched and is visibly not comfortable when the student then holds her and puts his head on her neck. This was crossing the line. Also read the article and see where criminal charges have not been filed. And according to the report the student has done it before.

    Againd if the teacher did this it would not be ok at all. She would loose her job. As a teacher I am very careful everyday to make sure I keep a professional relationship with my students. Professional include only minimal physical contact. If I move away from professional actions at all students will not know where to draw the line.

    Good for her for setting the line. It was not to long ago a female teacher was raped and killed.

    Not to mention it appears that this is a young teacher. Imagine being a 21 year old female teacher in a high school with 17 and 18 year old males. You need to draw a line and enforce it otherwise you are setup for years worth of issues.

  • Rob

    Also high school kids are clever and can actually bully teachers. Not sure if it was happening here, but some students
    Earn the rules and know exactly how to push the limits without breaking that thresh hold for punishment. This student could have been pushing this thresh hold for the entire year. Knowing just how far to go with out getting hung out. It happens all the time, I see it. This could have happened several times but this was the first time it was on video and she had more proof than just her word vs. his.

  • Larry Williams

    The school has a written pilicy, for all students to follow. A senior, should have known, what is right or wrong, by now. All students have a copy of all rules & regs, that both they and their parents, have read and signed for.
    As far as, the punishment fitting the crime, there’s no doubt, it’s severe, but where do you draw the line?

  • dave

    Its sad when common since is not used in a case like this, throw another kid in the garbage over a little hug, PATHETIC is are school system in action wonder why kids freak out

  • Amanda Rhodes

    When I was 17 I hugged a teacher I wouldn’t see probably again and he was a great teacher. It was out of sadness to not have him again and I didn’t even think about it till I had already hugged him, this is dumb. The teacher let him hug her and didn’t stop it obviously, way to ruin someone over a hug, this competitive bury each other world is just going to hurt us all. :( this is beyond stupid.

  • LH

    Everyone needs to stop believing that their kids are angels, not anything like “other kids”, and everything that they do is innocent.
    I’m sure the length of suspension is based on his record and having had multiple previous suspensions.
    The teacher has to protect herself from being accused of encouraging inappropriate behavior. If the roles were reversed, and this teacher were persistently hugging the student after being told that it’s not welcomed, everyone would unanimously be calling for her job and probably more. Can’t be a one way street.
    Might seem like a harsh lesson, but if he has a history of disciplinary issues it might be the only way to get through to him about respecting authority, and respecting personal boundaries (before he gets brought up on real legal charges down the road).

  • LH

    Another good lesson. . . Being good at sports, a expecting scholarship athlete, etc. does not put you above the law. Everyone is treated equally. Freshmen, senior, star athlete, failing student, everyone.

  • Jonas

    Americans are more afraid of human contact than of weapons.
    So typical US and why the rest of the world laughs at this parody of a country. Just look at TV, Guns and violence is ok but human skin is not.
    A hug or a kiss on the cheek is the worst thing you can do. Where I’m from nobody would react even if this was the other way around.

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