A Utah teacher and principal are apologizing after a Catholic fourth-grader was forced to wash an ash cross off his forehead in front of his classmates on Ash Wednesday because the teacher deemed it “inappropriate.”
Valley View Elementary School student William McLeod told KSTU he’s the only Catholic in his class, and both his classmates and his teacher were curious about the ashes on his forehead when he came to school on Wednesday.
“A lot of students asked me what it is,” McLeod said. “I said, ‘I’m Catholic. It’s the first day of Lent. It’s Ash Wednesday.”
“We celebrate getting close to God,” he said.
McLeod’s teacher also inquired, but apparently didn’t like the reason behind the religious symbol.
“The teacher walked over and said, like, ‘What is that?’” the youngster said. “I was like, ‘It’s Ash Wednesday and I’m Catholic. It’s the first day of Lent,’ and she was like, ‘no, it’s inappropriate, go take it off.’”
The teacher, who was not identified, wasn’t interested in hearing the purpose of the ash cross, he said.
“She took me aside and she was like, ‘you have to take it off,’” McLeod said. “So she gave me a deinfection wipe – whatever they’re called – and she made me wipe it off.”
“I wiped it off in front of all my friends,” he said. “I felt like really bad.”
McLeod’s grandmother, Karen Fisher, learned about the incident from the school’s principal and also spoke with the teacher.
“I was pretty upset,” Fisher told KSTU. “I asked (the teacher) if she’s read the Constitution, the First Amendment. And she said, ‘no … and oh.’”
Davis School District spokesman Chris Williams told the television station the teacher made a mistake and apologized, but could still face disciplinary action.
“Why that even came up, I have no idea,” Williams said. “When a student comes into school with ashes on their forehead, it’s not something we say, ‘Please take off.’”
The teacher is also making a sincere attempt to apologize, McLeod said.
The boy read a handwritten note the teacher left him along with a box of candy as a peace offering.
“I’m so sorry about what happened today,” the note read. “I hope we can move forward from this. – Mrs. P.”
McLeod’s family told KSTU they hope the ordeal will prevent other Catholic students from facing similar humiliation in the future.
“I hope this helps somebody,” Fisher said, “I hope it never happens again, and I don’t think it will.”