A 10-year-old boy was suspended from his Florida elementary school and faces a charge of misdemeanor battery after he was accused of inappropriately touching a school counselor during a hug, an allegation his family denies.
The counselor at Holly Hill School in Volusia County alleged that she was visiting a classroom on Oct. 24 to discuss something when the fourth-grader approached her for a hug, according to a police report and a copy of his suspension letter provided by attorneys for the boy's family.
She said she “turned sideways to give a side hug,” the letter says, and the child put one arm around her shoulder and with the other hand “reached and grabbed her left breast.” The counselor said she removed his hand and he walked away, the letter says.
NBC News generally does not name minors accused of crimes. NBC News is also not naming the counselor because she invoked Marsy’s Law, which in Florida allows alleged crime victims to remain anonymous. She could not be reached for comment Wednesday at phone numbers listed for her.
Police were called to the school in reference to an alleged battery, and now the child faces a charge of misdemeanor battery, according to the police report, but has not yet been charged.
Lawyers for the boy's family said he has been falsely accused. They further said the school never properly investigated the incident and suspended the child for 10 school days despite his denying the claims. He was allowed to return to school Tuesday, they said. Volusia County Schools declined to comment on the incident.
“My grandson has been accused of something and then punished before the facts,” the child's grandfather said. “We will not stand for it.” NBC News has not named members of the child's family to avoid identifying him.
The 10-year-old’s teacher was in the room during the alleged incident but did not witness what happened, according to the police report and the suspension letter.
The police report and the suspension letter say the teacher called the fourth-grader over to discuss what happened but that he “began to yell” and that the front office was called to remove him from the classroom.
The assistant principal called his grandmother to tell her about what happened and to inform her of the suspension, according to the family.
The child's family disputes the counselor’s version of events. Attorney Rawsi Williams said the boy says it was the counselor who initiated the hug.
“All he did was go up to hug her. It was nothing more than that for him. He then went back to his desk, talked with his other football playmates,” she said.
“The next thing he knew, the teacher calls him up and accuses him of having groped this lady. [The child] denied it, but even with him denying it, they still suspended him. They still called the police on him. The [counselor] still told the police that she wanted to pursue criminal battery charges against this 10-year-old kid.”
Attorney Frank T. Allen, who is also representing the family, said the family believes racism was at play. The child’s father said the incident was reminiscent of the case of Emmett Till, the Black 14-year-old boy who was tortured and murdered by two white men in 1955 after a white woman accused him of making improper advances.
The child is Black, and the counselor is white.
“It exacerbates the stereotypes of Black men and how they react around women and white women," Allen said. "And for her to go and do that and excoriate this child with these baseless accusations, this is going to have a long-term effect on him and how he interacts with people."
The incident has left the child fearful about returning to school, his grandmother said. The family is demanding the counselor’s firing, appealing the suspension and requesting that no charges be filed against the boy in juvenile court.