Can a six-year-old intend to commit a sexual offense?
A Philadelphia charter school was faced with this issue in March, 2010. The unnamed child was expelled from the school after touching his teacher’s thighs after she complained that her legs hurt. He told her that he wanted to make them feel better. When questioned by his mother, he explained that he wished he was a doctor so he could help people.
The child’s parents sued to clear his record and lift the expulsion. The court, considering only the one incident,* ruled in June, 2011, that the school abused its discretion. The judge ordered that the explusion be expunged from the boy’s record. In his ruling, the judge wrote that “In permanently expelling a six-year-old kindergarten student that had only been in school for seven months, the school made a gross abuse of discretion that was not supported by evidence in the record.”
The boy’s teacher admitted she regularly received hugs from her students, but that the boy’s contact made her feel uncomfortable. The judge sent the case to mediation. In the meantime, the boy has been going to a private school with no significant behavior problems.
If this child had been older, criminal charges could have been filed against him depending on applicable state laws. “Intent” is an important element of many crimes – the state’s burden is to prove beyond a reasonable doubt all elements of an alleged offense. Do you think a young child, preschool or kindergarten, can form the necessary “intent” to sexually assault or touch another child or adult? How should a teacher handle this type of situation?
*This boy had previously been suspended for touching a girl’s bottom while under a table picking up crayons. He was also suspended twice for shoving and tripping classmates.