VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – A Virginia Beach middle schooler was suspended for sexually harassing his teacher, but the boy and his mother claim the school has twisted an innocent compliment into something “sick.”
For months 10 On Your Side has reported on controversial discipline cases inside the Virginia Beach City Public School System – and this is one of them. It’s all about a compliment the school system claims went too far, and a student’s family who claims the school system went too far.
“I said, ‘you look nice today, Ms. ******.’ That’s all I said, and I said it just like that,” said a 7th grader, who met with WAVY.com, along with his mother, at a Virginia Beach park.
Both the mother and son do not want to identify themselves, and WAVY.com will not identify the teacher by name. We will mention that the teacher refused to comment on this case. We got that denial through the school system’s administrative office.
February 17 began this 7th grader’s nightmare at Princess Anne Middle School. His teacher apparently did not like his tone of voice and took him to another teacher.
“In front of another teacher … she said ‘now what did you say again to me?’ I said again, ‘you look nice today, Ms. ******.’”
He and the teacher then returned to class together for three hours before the end of the day. The next day the student returned to school and received a two-day, out-of-school suspension notice. The listed reason: sexual harassment.
The boy’s mother wonders why, if the comment was so offensive to the teacher, that she allowed the boy to go back to class with her: “It’s a lack of common sense and judgment on the school division’s part. It never should have escalated to this point.”
The 12-year-old started crying as we interviewed him: “It hurts. It hurts to have them think I’m that bad of a kid … that I sexually harassed a teacher.”
The student claims his tone of voice was normal and that his statement was an innocent compliment. His mother’s comments are much stronger: “Honestly, this is absurd. He complimented somebody. This is not sexual harassment. He said a compliment, and [the school administration has] twisted it into something sick.”
The mother sent emails, wanting to meet with the teacher, but her request was denied by the school. Then she was told her son would return to the same teacher’s class after his suspension. Mom says, “absolutely not.”
“For him to go back into the classroom is unwarranted. What if he brushes up against her – is that sexual assault? I know that sounds extreme, but they are extreme,” she said.
The school’s administration wrote her back: “alternative arrangements for instruction will not be provided.”
The mother decided to fight that, and two days later her son was assigned to a new class. Eventually the school system reclassified the infraction from “sexual harassment” to “disrespect.”
“We couldn’t believe this … the right thing to do is take it off his record,” the mother said. “That is not okay, because his comment was not disrespectful. It should not be on his record.”
The family has not been told whether the infraction will be taken off the student’s record.
“It has affected me a lot,” the student told WAVY.com. “I’ve changed my courses. I’ve changed hallways. I changed lockers. I have changed lunches, and I still see her.”
Attorney Kevin Martingayle represents students like this one before school boards.
“This throws the school into a tailspin,” he said. “When a kid is yanked out, and suspended, and everybody knows they are really a weak set of facts, it puts everybody on pins and needles. Kids are wondering whether they are the next person who is going to be the victim of a set of rules that are not being enforced in an intelligent way.”
The student explained why the situation has taken an emotional toll on him: “I am not that kind of kid, and just the way they put it, and the way they make me feel. I am not that kind of kid.”
The family gave 10 On Your Side a waiver giving up their rights of privacy because they want the School Administration to discuss this case with us. WAVY.com went to the Superintendent of Public Schools, Dr. Sheila Magula, and asked her this basic question: “Why would you want that child back in the teacher’s class after he just sexually harassed her? It raises the question — was this really sexual harassment?”
Dr. Magula responded: “I understand that you have a waiver, Mr. Fox. However, it is up to the division with all that we perhaps know to disclose or discuss it at our option. We’re not going to, as we mentioned at the beginning of this when we agreed to the interview, that we are not going to discuss individual student cases.”
The student’s family calls this situation just another case of Virginia Beach Schools lacking common sense and judgment in discipline cases. WAVY.com has reported on other controversial cases with the school system that have gained national interest.
On Monday at 6 p.m., WAVY News 10 sits down with the Virginia Beach School Superintendent and School Board Chairman to ask them about their “zero-tolerance” policy that has led to confusion and unwanted media attention. You may be very surprised by what they have to say.