Teenager Suspended Because We Don’t Know How To Talk About Boundaries


Sam McNair, a student at Duluth High School in Georgia has been suspended for a year after hugging his female teacher. Sam and his mom say he comes from a “family of huggers” and that his hug was totally innocent. He told CBS Atlanta:

“Something so innocent can be perceived as something totally opposite.”

Still, a school hearing officer said he violated the Gwinnett County Schools policy on sexual harassment. The teacher herself said that Sam also kissed her on the neck, something he denies. There is surveillance footage of the incident, which shows Sam coming up behind the teacher and embracing her from the back.

I have mixed feelings on this. On one hand, suspending him for a year for something he says he didn’t realize was against the rules seems pretty harsh. But on the other hand, hugging a teacher and (possibly) kissing her on the neck is also kind of disturbing, even if he didn’t mean any harm. If the teacher felt somehow violated, that matters, no matter what his intention.

Whether or not Sam McNair’s suspension was warranted or not, this is the second such incident in the space of a week. Remember the little boy who was suspended for kissing his first grade girlfriend on the hand? Now, there’s a big difference between a six-year-old kissing a classmate and a teenager hugging a teacher, but both things happened within the framework of the school building. I feel like we need to be having some serious cultural conversations about what constitutes appropriate touching, both within and outside of school. I don’t know if the onus for this is on families and parents or schools, but I think it can stand to be addressed in both realms, even if schools already have programming about sexual harassment and touching in place and even if parents have already had this conversation with their children.

I understand that neither of these boys, one an elementary schooler and one a high schooler, had any ill intentions towards the females they touched. But that doesn’t mean that they can just go around touching whomever they want, whenever they want, just to show their affection.

Photo: Hal Bergman Photography via Getty Images

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