When the mother of an Autistic kindergartener was called to the school, she was surprised that they informed her that her son was in trouble for hugging a classmate. However, she claims that school officials have labeled her son a “sex offender” for his behavior.
When Summery Putnam sends 5-year-old Nathan off to school, like most other kindergarteners, he is excited to see his classmates. However, unlike many of his peers, he struggles with autism, which requires him to communicate his feelings in a different manner.
For children, the social interactions during the first few years of their lives are crucial to their mental and behavioral health. As such, it is critically important that negative behavior is disciplined and positive behavior is rewarded. Swap the two and you have a recipe for a troubled child.
In an effort to show his love for his classmates, the excited boy reportedly hugged another child, an action that is apparently prohibited in the classroom. Despite this seemingly minor and natural behavior, the school had a far more disturbing response.
According to WTVC, Summery Putnam claims that she received a call from her son’s teacher at East Ridge Elementary in Chattanooga, Tennessee, telling her that Nathan was being punished for inappropriately touching a classmate. She claims that her child is now being accused of sexual behavior for hugging a child and kissing another on the cheek.
“I was sick to my stomach,” Putnam said. “The teacher called me and she said, ‘You need to have a talk with Nathan about boundaries.’ If you don’t understand how autism works, you’ll think he’s acting out or being difficult. But, that’s not the situation.”
Along with Putnam’s claim, Debi Amick, Nathan’s grandmother, posted a Facebook status accusing the school of recording her grandson as a sexual predator.
“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 different than your typical 5 year.”
However, the school denies Putnam and Amick’s claims, calling them “inaccurate.” In an official statement, the school dismissed their accusation that Nathan was labeled “a sexual predator” and stated that the issues had nothing to do with “a hug or kiss.”
“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. 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.'”
As the story gained media attention, a spokesman for the Hamilton County Department of Education stepped in to add clarification. He reiterated that the school is required by law to report concerning situations to the state, which the district has reportedly done.
“School personnel are required to report concerns regarding children to the Department of Child Services (DCS). It’s up to DCS to determine if those reports are acted on by DCS and what form those actions may take. “
Still, the family believes that it is all a misunderstanding. Putnam and Amick expressed their concern that the teacher doesn’t have the capability or qualification to handle Nathan’s behavioral issues.
“He doesn’t know what he’s doing wrong,” Putnam said.
Nathan has since been moved to a different classroom with a new teacher. He is now enrolled in a special needs class that is more suited to properly cultivate his skills as well as handle his behavior.
“He shouldn’t be treated like this. The kid doesn’t even understand what sex is,” Amick said.
Whether the issue was over something as harmless as a hug from an excitable autistic 5-year-old or something more nefarious, only the school officials and Nathan’s mother know. Unfortunately, neither has released such information at this time.