SALT LAKE CITY—A teacher in Utah has been placed on administrative leave after forcing a Catholic student to wash an Ash Wednesday cross off his forehead.
William McLeod, 9, had just returned to school at Valley View Elementary near Salt Lake City after attending Catholic mass when his fourth-grade teacher called the ash marking “inappropriate” and gave him a hand wipe to clean it off in front of his classmates, according to the McLeod’s grandmother Karen Fisher.
At first McLeod explained he could not remove the cross because it is important for the beginning of Easter but eventually agreed to Moana Patterson’s request. Ash is often used as a sign of mortality and has a long history in Christian and Jewish worship.
“He went to see the school’s psychologist crying,” Fisher told the Associated Press. “He was embarrassed.”
Davis School District Spokesman Chris William confirmed the incident in Bountiful is being taken very seriously and an investigation is underway into whether disciplinary action should be levied against the child’s teacher. The teacher has meanwhile been suspended.
“The actions were unacceptable,” he said. “No student should ever be asked or required to remove an ash cross from his or her forehead.”
Patterson phoned Fisher to apologize after being called into a meeting with the principal about the incident. The teacher also gave a handwritten note and candy bar to McLeod. Patterson did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment about the incident.
William said he does not know Patterson’s religious affiliation.
In Utah, Catholics are the minority. The 330,000 Catholics in the state account for about 10 percent of the population, according to Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City Government Liaison Officer Jean Hill. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints account for about two-thirds of the state. The faith’s headquarters are in Salt Lake City.
“We understand that mistakes happen,” Hill said in a statement. “The diocese is also very grateful to the young student who used the situation to educate his teacher about a part of his faith and its importance to him.”
“Learning about one another is one way we build community across religious, political, racial, ethnic and other borders,” she added.
Patterson has asked if she could reapply the ashes herself but Fisher informed her “that’s not how it works.”
The school district’s director of educational equity, who happens to be ordained as a Catholic deacon, came to the school to reapply the ashes.