A 6-year-old boy from Hercules, California (San Francisco) has been accused of sexual assault after a misunderstanding during a playground game of tag.
The parent said his son was accused of brushing his best friend's leg or groin while the two were playing on the playground at Lupine Hills Elementary in Hercules two months ago, reports CBS San Francisco.
The boy was kept in the principal's office for two hours. After he confessed the principal decided to suspend him, and a sexual battery charge was placed on his permanent school record.
Marilyn Cheeks, a Lupine Hills Elementary parent, said:
"To me, I think it's an overreaction."
While a six year-old cannot be legally charged with sexual assault in the state, Marin Trujillo, a spokesman for the West Contra Costa Unified School District, said:
"We must take any allegation of assault involving a child very seriously."
The decision has been derided by members of the community, writes Scott James at the Bay Citizen.
Other parents have discussed the case on the Berkeley Parents Network, a popular online forum for area families.
"That principal and school is so insanely out of line," said one comment.
"This kind of thing makes me livid," said another.
Many parents wrote about their own experiences with such heavy-handedness, with one citing a time when their child was suspended for "hugging".
While incidents like these are seemingly on the rise – including one last year where a 7-year-old girl faced sexual harassment charges in Boston — experts believe they are part of an emerging national trend.
Frederick M. Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, believes that the latest trend of anti-bullying policies "set forth pretty strong rules regarding categories of behavior." And this, he believes, may have unintended consequences.
"This means there's less room, and more risk, for principals who would make sensible accommodations based on student age and the circumstances in question," he said.
Stuart Lustig, a child psychiatrist at the University of California – San Francisco, thinks that we shouldn't overreact when young children to touch each other's genital areas.
"It's curiosity," he said.
"It's not sexual in the adult sense."
Lustig added that it would only become a concern if a young child does not stop when told the behavior is inappropriate, writes James.
"Schools can sometimes respond very strongly because of the legal environment," he said.