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By Doha Madani and Associated Press

An elementary school teacher in Utah has been placed on leave after telling a student to wash off the cross on his forehead on Ash Wednesday.

Moana Patterson, a 4th-grade teacher in Bountiful, a city just north of Salt Lake City, has been placed on leave amid an investigation into the incident, a Davis School District spokesman said Thursday.

The boy's grandmother, Karen Fisher, said Patterson told her grandson, William McLeod, that the cross was inappropriate and forced him to wash it off in front of his classmates, leaving him crying and embarrassed.

"We are sorry about what happened and apologize to the student and the family for the teacher’s actions," the district said in a statement. "The actions were unacceptable. No student should ever be asked or required to remove an ash cross from his or her forehead."

The district reached out to the family and then called its educational equity director, who happens to be an ordained Catholic deacon. He reached out to the boy's family and reapplied the ash cross to William's forehead, the statement said.

The teacher also gave the student a handwritten apology, according to the district. Patterson didn’t immediately return an email to the Associated Press seeking comment about the incident.

Ash Wednesday is considered one of the holiest days of the year for Christians and marks the beginning of Lent. Some who observe the holiday attend Ash Wednesday services where a priest applies ashes in the form of a cross to the parishioner's forehead.

More than two-thirds of Utah residents are Mormon and about 10 percent are Catholic.

A spokesman for the district said he doesn’t know Patterson’s religious affiliation.