Being a five-year-old is kinda weird. You are no longer considered a toddler, though some of your clothes may have a “T” for toddler after the number. Still, you’re not quite a big kid, an honor that seems unfairly awarded to those in the first grade. Sensible isn’t a word that is often described for a five-year-old’s actions, largely because decision making is based on impulse rather than logic.
This is the mindset that kindergartner Eric Lopez was in when he was on the playground at school in April. While playing with a group of kids at Ashton Ranch Elementary School in Surprise, Arizona, one of the students told him to pull his pants down. It’s unclear what Eric’s initial response was. However, the other student said that if Eric didn’t do it, he would do it for him. So Eric pulled his pants down. This is perfectly logical for a five-year-old.
For the principal and the Dysart Unified School District, it was not.
After witnessing the incident, a teacher took Eric to the principal’s office. It was there that the principal reportedly discussed the incident and why what he did was wrong. Then the principal pulled out a form, and checked off that Eric had been talked to and had told his side of his story. Eric was then told to sign his name on the document. He only signed his first name, because that’s all he knew how to do.
The form indicated that Eric was being disciplined for sexual misconduct.
The policy describes indecent exposure (because a five-year-old’s bottom is indecent, apparently) is a form of sexual misconduct. In this case, “depantsing” was the indecent act. Furthermore, the district noted that even though the form labeled the actions as such, the situation was discussed in an age appropriate manner and did not include that phrase. Fortunately for Eric, he can’t read yet so he doesn’t know what he signed.
Administrators must be present but they are not compelled to call parents unless requested by the students. However, being five and not being told he could do so, he did not. The principal did not inform Eric’s mother until after the disciplinary meeting had taken place. When his mother, Erica Martinez, found out, she was told that she could appeal.
The district denied her appeal and now the infraction is part of his permanent record for his entire school life.
After more than two months of fighting the district’s actions, which included detention for Eric, Erica Martinez has decided to go public with her story. In an interview, she pointed out what should be obvious to any adult with a modicum of common sense.
“He’s a 5-year-old. He does not know right from wrong yet. My son is not a sexualized minor,” Martinez said.
While it is mind boggling to Erica Martinez, and to any other adult who has heard the story, is the idea that this level of harshness is being dealt on a child who was, well, being a child. It is unclear why the situation could not have been discussed with Eric – and his mother – and solved with a simple “let’s do better next time.” Kindergarten is the beginning of learning how to deal with socialization and boundaries. Punishing a child so harshly for a mistake is not conducive to teaching the lessons he needs to learn.
One of the key elements of identifying an offense is consideration of the child’s age and maturity. A five-year-old pulling his pants down in response to what could be deemed a threat is not sexual in nature, nor does it indicate sexual misconduct. It also does not help to have such a label follow him for the rest of his school life.
Martinez said that Eric only signed the document because he was told to (as any five-year-old in the presence of an adult authority figure would do). She wants to have the document pulled from his file, or at the very least have the sexual misconduct charge removed from the form. In response, the district said Ms. Martinez can write a letter expressing her displeasure with the determination, which will be kept in the file along with the incident report.
If you would also like to “express displeasure” with the idea of having a kindergartner labeled with sexual misconduct, please sign this petition to encourage the Dysart Unified School District to change their mind.