Feb. 7, 2006 — -- A first-grader was suspended from Downey Elementary School in Brockton, Mass., after school officials said he sexually harassed a female schoolmate. The young boy is accused of touching a fellow first-grader's skin underneath the rear waistband of her pants.
The child's mother, Berthena Dorinvil, said he was too young even to understand the accusation. "I said, 'My son doesn't know anything about sexual harassment. What are you talking about? He's 6 years old,'" Dorinvil said.
Dorinvil, 38, said she got a phone call from the school's principal, Diane Gosselin, last month, asking her to come pick her son up from school.
"I feel terrible," said Dorinvil. "He feels terrible. He keeps telling me 'Mommy, are the police going to arrest me?' He's very emotional."
The boy was supposed to return to school on Friday after a three-day suspension, but his mother refused to send him back after her son told her he felt uncomfortable returning there. She is trying to get him transferred to another area school.
In a statement, Brockton Superintendent of Schools Basan Nembirkow said the district takes "all allegations of sexual harassment very seriously. An investigation is always conducted when reports of sexual harassment arise. Principals are trained to handle these difficult situations and they are assisted, as needed, by the district's sexual harassment officer in handling each situation."
Recounting the scenario in front of her home today, Dorinvil said, "The girl said my son touched her waistband. That's what the girl said to the principal. My son said, no, he touched her back, just on her shirt, because the girl touched him first.
"He was crying and said, 'Mommy, why this is a big deal? What is this? I thought we were all sisters and brothers in class.'"
She says she hasn't tried to explain sexual harassment to her son because she believes he is too young to understand.
According to Dorinvil, the school's supervisor said "sexual harassment" is the term the school uses for this kind of behavior and promised to "work things out." Dorinvil said the school reported the incident to both the police and the district attorney's office.
Cynthia McNally, a spokeswoman for the Brockton Public Schools, said, "It's unfortunate this situation has gotten this kind of publicity."
McNally told The Enterprise newspaper, "They would have not suspended the child without doing an investigation."