William McLeod is a fourth grader at Valley View Elementary School in Utah. William is Catholic and attended an Ash Wednesday service on March 6. In the Catholic religion, Ash Wednesday signifies the start of the Lenten season which leads up to Easter. During Mass on this day, Catholics receive palm ashes on their forehead in the symbol of a cross. The ashes are meant to serve as a reminder of the person’s faith. When McLeod’s showed up at his public school with the ash on, his teacher reportedly forced him to wash it off, according to Fox News.
McLeod says he was the only student in his class who had ash on their forehead that day. When his teacher and friends asked him about them, he explained that he was Catholic and expressed what the marking represents to him.
“A lot of students asked me what it is. I said, ‘I’m Catholic. It’s the first day of Lent. It’s Ash Wednesday.'”
The boy told his teacher that the symbol was important to him and he wanted to keep the ash on his forehead for the duration of the school day. Nevertheless, the teacher was unsatisfied with his response and gave him a disinfectant wipe, instructing him to wash the cross off.
McLeod said that the incident occurred while the rest of the students watched. The boy’s grandmother, Karen Fisher, was later informed of what happened by the school’s principal. She was very upset that the teacher had not only embarrassed her grandson, but had failed to value his religious faith. Fisher later spoke with the boy’s teacher to further understand her reasoning.
Violation of First Amendment to suppress religious freedom of expression. https://t.co/K79Ur52MiW— James Woods (@RealJamesWoods) March 7, 2019
“I asked her if she read the Constitution with the First Amendment, and she said, ‘No,'” Fisher stated.
Chris Williams of the Davis School District later apologized for the teacher’s actions and said that the school aims to be respectful of all faiths and backgrounds. He also said that the situation will be investigated further.
“Why that even came up, I have no idea. When a student comes in to school with ashes on their forehead, it’s not something we say, ‘Please take off.'”
McLeod’s teacher, who has not been publicly identified, later apologized to him for the incident with a handwritten note and candy. She expressed her hope that they would be able to move past what happened.
Fisher hopes that the media spotlight brought to this occurrence will help others and aid in a greater respect and understanding of other backgrounds and faiths.