September 27, 2019
Parents of an autistic 5-year-old in Tennessee are calling out school officials for allegedly reporting the child to the Department of Children’s Services for sexual harassment after he hugged his classmates.
Summery Putnam, mother of East Ridge Elementary kindergartner Nathan Putnam, told WTVC she was contacted by the boy’s teacher about three weeks ago to complain about the boy’s behavior in class.
The teacher alleged Nathan hugged a student in class and kissed another on the cheek, prompting school officials to file a complaint for sexual harassment with state officials, the mother said.
“I was sick to my stomach,” Summery Putnam told the news site. “The teacher called me and she said, ‘You need to have a talk with Nathan about boundaries.”
Children with autism struggle with understanding social cues and concepts like personal space, Putnam said, but officials at East Ridge reported the child to DCS nonetheless.
“He doesn’t know what he is doing is wrong,” Putnam said.
“If you don’t understand how autism works, you’ll think he’s acting out or being difficult,” she said. “But, that’s not the situation. He doesn’t know what he’s doing is wrong.”
Nathan’s grandmother, Debi Amick, also posted about the ordeal on Facebook.
“What do you do when a 5 year child is being labeled a sexual predator and accused of sexual harassment by the school system? It was disclosed that it will go in his record for the rest of his life that he is a sex offender. This child is (autistic), he comprehends and functions very differently than your typical 5 year,” Amick wrote.
“What do you do? Who do you turn to for help when the school will not even listen to the child’s doctor when he explains the child’s difficulties in his comprehension of simple things such as boundaries? If anyone can offer advice or help please do.”
“He shouldn’t be treated like this,” Amick said. “The kid doesn’t even understand what sex is.”
Hamilton County Schools confirmed that officials forwarded a report to DCS, but refused to discuss Nathan’s situation, other than to allege his parents are liars.
“School personnel are required to report concerns regarding children to DCS,” spokesman Tim Hensley said, according to KVOA. “It is up to DCS to determine if those reports are acted on by DCS and what form those actions may take.”
Putnam said she discussed the controversy with Nathan.
“I talked to him ‘I said you can’t hug children’ he said ‘Why?’” she said. “I said, ‘Because, Nathan, it’s not allowed.’”
Putnam said she believes it’s wrong for school officials “to bring something like this against a child, a special needs child.
“Really, he doesn’t understand what he’s done wrong,” she said.
Regardless, Nathan is now in a different special education classroom with a different teacher.
Two days after WTVC broke the story, Hamilton County Schools issued a prepared statement that disputes some of Putnam’s claims.
“This family’s characterization of the incident with their child at East Ridge Elementary does not capture the full context of the concerns expressed to them by the school. It was not a hug or kiss that prompted the school to contact the family,” the statement read.
“Also, at no time did the school administration punish the child or treat the incident as a discipline issue. Moreover, no one at the school sought to label the child as ‘a sexual predator,’” it continued. “Hamilton County Schools is bound by student privacy laws that do not allow us to discuss publicly specific details of what happened in the classroom setting with the child.”
This article was posted: Friday, September 27, 2019 at 5:24 am