Boy, 6, ousted for sex harassment
By Maria Papadopoulos, Enterprise staff writer
BROCKTON ? A six-year-old boy was suspended from school for three days after officials said he sexually harassed a girl in his first-grade class.
Berthena Dorinvil of Brockton said Monday that school officials suspended her son for three days last week, saying he inappropriately touched a first-grade girl in a classroom at the Downey Elementary School.
"I screamed, because my son doesn't even know what sexual harassment is," Dorinvil, 38, said. "He doesn't know those things. He's only 6 years old."
School officials on Monday declined comment, citing the child's age. "They would have not suspended the child without doing an investigation," said spokeswoman Cynthia McNally.
Dorinvil said Principal Diane Gosselin called her to pick up her son on Jan. 30.
Gosselin told her the boy had been sitting behind the girl on the carpet in a classroom with a teacher and about 20 students present, and the girl had complained to the teacher, claiming her son inappropriately touched her, Dorinvil said.
The principal said her son had put two fingers inside the waistband of the girl's pants and touched her skin, Dorinvil said.
"She said to me, 'That's sexual harassment,' " Dorinvil said.
She said the principal called the district attorney's office and school police.
Dorinvil said she questioned her son about the incident and the boy said he had put two fingers on the back of the girl's shirt after the girl had touched him.
"I said to him, 'Did your fingers touch her skin?' He said to me, 'No, just her shirt.' He was playing with her," Dorinvil said.
A Jan. 30 letter from Gosselin to Dorinvil said her son had committed the infraction of "sexual harassment" and was suspended Jan. 31, Feb. 1 and Feb. 2.
"This disciplinary action was taken after a careful review of the situation and was done in the best educational interest of your child," the letter states. "We request your cooperation in assisting your child to understand the reason for this suspension and in helping to prevent future incidents."
Gosselin did not return a call for comment on Monday.
The Brockton public schools' policy guide defines sexual harassment as "repeated, unwanted, or unwelcomed verbalisms or behaviors of a sexist nature related to a person's sex or sexual orientation."
The policy includes examples of what is called sexual harassment, including "uninvited physical contact such as touching, hugging, patting or pinching."
Parents of other Downey School students said they were surprised by the allegation of sexual harassment.
"For first grade, you can't even think of that," said Sue Gabourel, a mother with two students at the Downey School. "I've never even come across that in sixth grade. I'm really surprised. That's unbelievable."
Toni Saunders, president of the Associated Advocacy Center in Sandwich, called the sexual harassment charge "very unusual."
"This child is 6 and it doesn't make sense that he could assault someone in that way in a classroom with other people there," Saunders said.
Saunders, who has agreed to advocate on behalf of Dorinvil's son, said she would question the adults in the classroom at the time.
"If in fact it really did happen, where were they?" Saunders said. "And secondly, and most importantly, how does this little girl know about these things? Because at 6, she shouldn't."
Dorvinvil said her son has been home since the suspension and she hopes he will be transferred to another school.
"My son told the principal, 'Are police going to get me? What did I do wrong?'" Dorinvil said. "I'm confused because I really don't know what this is about."
On its Web site, the National Association of Elementary School Principals issued a statement titled "Sexual Harassers Can Be Elementary School Students." It concluded by saying:
"It is critical that principals act quickly and take sexual harassment very seriously. Remember that anything that is offensive to the opposite sex can and might be considered sexual harassment, including tugging at clothes, name-calling, and playground teasing. Cracking down now not only is best for students, it will also create a better climate for learning. And it's certainly good PR (public relations)."
Assistant District Attorney Bridget Norton Middleton declined comment on the case, saying it's a juvenile matter.
Woe be unto him who opens one of the seven gateways to hell, because through that gateway evil will invade the world.