An elementary school teacher in Utah has been placed on administrative leave after forcing a student to wash off the Ash Wednesday cross on his forehead.
A Davis School District spokesperson on Thursday said that the fourth-grade-teacher, identified as Moana Patterson from Bountiful, north of Salt Lake City, was placed on leave after an investigation into the incident, according to NBC News.
According to the boy's grandmother, Karen Fisher, the teacher told her grandson, William McLeod, that the cross was inappropriate and asked him to wash it off in front of his classmates.
Reports state that the incident left the student embarrassed and crying.
According to reports, McLeod arrived for class at Valley View Elementary School in Bountiful on Wednesday with the traditional Ash cross to commemorate the Christian holy day. However, he was the only student in his class wearing the cross on his forehead. The teacher reportedly came up to him and asked him what the cross mark was for.
Violation of First Amendment to suppress religious freedom of expression. https://t.co/K79Ur52MiW— James Woods (@RealJamesWoods) March 7, 2019
"I was like, 'It's Ash Wednesday and I'm Catholic. It's the first day of Lent,'" William told KSTU. "She was like, 'No, it's inappropriate, go take it off.'" The boy added that he tried to explain the meaning of the cross to his teacher but she wouldn't have it.
"She gave me a disinfection wipe and she made me wipe it off," William said, adding that he had to do it in front of "all of my friend." "I felt like, really bad," he said.
The district released a statement shortly after, apologizing to the student: "We are sorry about what happened and apologize to the student and the family for the teacher’s actions. The actions were unacceptable. No student should ever be asked or required to remove an ash cross from his or her forehead."
Why would we need strict scrutiny for free exercise claims in America? https://t.co/wZz4OztAL8 #gapol https://t.co/wZz4OztAL8— Josh McKoon 🇺🇸 (@JoshMcKoon) March 8, 2019
The incident was soon reported to the principal, who called William's grandmother. Patterson also called her up as well. "I was pretty upset" Fisher said. "I asked her if she read the Constitution with the First Amendment and she said 'No' and 'Ohhh.'"
The school district also reached out to the family and called its educational equity director, who is an ordained Catholic deacon. The equity director reached out to the boy's family and reapplied the ash cross on the boy's forehead, according to reports.
The district also said that the teacher gave the student a handwritten apology for the incident.