Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013 | 5 p.m.
DENVER — The suspension of a 6-year-old boy for kissing a girl at school is raising questions about whether the peck should be considered sexual harassment.
The boy's mother said officials at Lincoln School of Science and Technology in Canon City, a southern Colorado city of 16,000, are over-reacting. Jennifer Saunders said her son was suspended once before for kissing the girl and had other disciplinary problems, and she was surprised to find out that he would be forced out of school again for several days.
First grader Hunter Yelton told KRDO-TV that he has a crush on a girl at school and she likes him back.
"It was during class, yeah. We were doing reading group, and I leaned over and kissed her on the hand. That's what happened," he said.
Saunders said she saw nothing wrong with her son's display of affection. She said she punished him for other problems in school, including rough-housing. She was shocked when the school's principal brought up the term "sexual harassment" during a meeting.
"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," she said.
District superintendent Robin Gooldy told the Associated Press on Tuesday the boy was suspended because of a policy against unwanted touching.
"The focus needs to be on his behavior. We usually try to get the student to stop, but if it continues, we need to take action and it sometimes rises to the level of suspension," he said.
He said officials have not heard from the girl's parents, and no legal action is anticipated because it was only a violation of school policy.
In recent years, Colorado and other states have been moving to relax zero-tolerance disciplinary policies blamed for increasing the dropout rate and giving students criminal records for relatively minor infractions. However, those policies have dealt mostly with safety issues, such as students fighting or bringing a replica gun to school, not sexual harassment.
Dr. David Welsh, a school psychologist, said some policies that bar bullying, harassment and weapons on public school campuses may go too far, but school boards are being forced to develop strict policies and follow them to the letter because of a large number of complaints being reported by students and teachers who face consequences if they keep silent.
"If you have a policy and procedure and you don't follow it, it's hard to defend," Welsh said.
The boy's suspension ended on Tuesday. School officials refused to say if the he was back in class, and his mother did not return a phone call seeking comment.
A child psychologist told KRDO that tough love in this case could have negative consequences. She said kissing is normal behavior for children of that age.
"For most 6-year-old boys, absolutely. That would be a normal behavior," said Sandy Wurtele, a child clinical psychologist who specializes in child sexual development and the prevention of childhood sexual abuse.
Wurtele said she was surprised to hear the school suspended him.
"That really gives mixed messages, negative messages to the kids," she said. "This part of development is just as important if not more than their academic subjects."
Wurtele said children at that age are simply curious about the differences between boys and girls.