School accuses 5-year-old of sex harassment

December 20, 2006|by ERIN CUNNINGHAM

HAGERSTOWN - A kindergarten student was accused earlier this month of sexually harassing a classmate at Lincolnshire Elementary School, an accusation that will remain on his record until he moves to middle school.

Washington County Public Schools spokeswoman Carol Mowen said the definition of sexual harassment used by the school system is, "unwelcome sexual advances, request for sexual favors and/or other inappropriate verbal, written or physical conduct of a sexual nature directed toward others."

Mowen said that definition comes from the Maryland State Department of Education.

According to a school document provided by the boy's father, the 5-year-old pinched a girl's buttocks on Dec. 8 in a hallway at the school south of Hagerstown.

Charles Vallance, the boy's father, said he was unable to explain to his son what he had done.

"He knows nothing about sex," Vallance said. "There's no way to explain what he's been written up for. He knows it as playing around. He doesn't know it as anything sexual at all."


The incident was described as "sexual harassment" on the school form.

School officials consider a student's age and the specific action when determining what administrative action to take, Mowen said.

Lincolnshire Principal Darlene Teach and Mowen said they were unable to discuss he incident involving the Lincolnshire student.

Teach said any student, regardless of grade level, can be cited for sexual harassment.

"Anytime a student touches another student inappropriately, it could be sexual harassment," Teach said.

School administrators at a Texas school in November suspended a 4-year-old student for inappropriately touching a teacher's aide after the prekindergarten student hugged the woman.

"It's important to understand a child may not realize that what he or she is doing may be considered sexual harassment, but if it fits under the definition, then it is, under the state's guidelines," Mowen said. "If someone has been told this person does not want this type of touching, it doesn't matter if it's at work or at school, that's sexual harassment."

The incident will be included in the boy's file while he remains at Lincolnshire, but Mowen said those files do not follow students when they move on to middle school.

She described the incident as a "learning opportunity."

During the 2005-06 school year, 28 kindergarten students in Maryland were suspended for sex offenses, including sexual assault, sexual harassment and sexual activity, according to state data. Fifteen of those suspensions were for sexual harassment.

During the 2005-06 school year, one Washington County prekindergarten student was suspended from school, and 12 of the county's kindergartners were suspended for various offenses, according to state data.

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