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Grade schooler's crucifixion drawing sparks religious row

The boy's father says an elementary school in Taunton, Mass., suspended his son for drawing a picture of Jesus. The school says his version of events is 'totally inaccurate.'

By Tracey D. SamuelsonContributor / December 16, 2009



Boston

Did a Massachusetts school attack Christmas or was it trying to prevent one of its students from potentially doing harm to himself or others?

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That is what is at issue in the case of a grade schooler at Lowell M. Maxham Elementary School in Taunton, Mass.

His father, Charles Johnson, stirred up controversy when he told reporters of various newspapers this week that his son was suspended for drawing a picture of the crucifixion as part of a class project to draw a picture about the holidays.

“They can’t mess with our religion,” Mr. Johnson told The Boston Globe. “They owe us a small lump sum for this.”

But the Taunton School District released a statement Tuesday night that refutes almost every element of Johnson’s story. District officials say:

• The boy told his teacher that it was himself on the cross, not Jesus.

• The drawing was not part of a school project.

• The boy was not suspended from school, but rather given a psychological evaluation out of concern that the picture was a cry for help.

• The picture circulated by the media is not the same one that prompted teachers to report the boy.

“Religion had nothing to do with this at all, 100 percent nothing to do with it,” Julie Hackett, superintendent of the Taunton public schools, told The Boston Globe.

In its statement, the school insists it followed “well-established protocol,” including reviewing the child’s records and consulting with school psychologists. The statement called early media reports of the story “totally inaccurate.”

After the story originally surfaced in a local newspaper, the town’s mayor called for Dr. Hackett to apologize to the boy and his family. But he has since decided to back the school’s decisions.

“Dr. Hackett has far more of the facts than I do, and now I understand that the report was not accurate,’’ he said. “Based on her account, I stand behind my superintendent. She is in possession of the facts.’’

The boy was allowed to return to class Dec. 7 after a two-day risk assessment by a licensed social worker. It concluded that the boy “does not appear to be a threat to himself or others at this time.”

According to Johnson, that assessment amounted to a suspension.

The incident “traumatized” his son, who he says is now being ostracized by the other kids at school, he said.

“His rights were violated,” Johnson told the Boston Herald.

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