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Student suspended for hugging teacher appeals to school board

SUWANEE — Sam McNair’s case went to the Gwinnett County Board of Education on Thursday night.

A Duluth High senior who was suspended last month for violating the Gwinnett County Public School’s sexual harassment policy when he hugged a teacher reached out to members of the school board through family attorney Kimani King.

King, who said he is a former senior district attorney, asked the school board to reconsider the one-year suspension, and said he wouldn’t dispute the violation.

“I really don’t think that’s the issue here,” King said. “The issue is whether or not we should suspend somebody for a year, keep them out of school and derail his education, and possibly make him a statistic.”

Board members didn’t clarify any decision during the meeting, but after the meeting, McNair’s mother, April, said James Taylor, the district’s executive director of academic support, recommended that McNair finish the school year at the GIVE Center West, an alternative school, and contact Principal Todd Marschke to see if McNair’s diploma would reflect Duluth High.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” April McNair said. “We hope the diploma will say Duluth High School because he did work four hard years for it.”

April McNair added that she didn’t think the punishment was fair, but, “they gave him the alternative, which they didn’t the first time. It’s a step forward.”

The family is waiting to see if the issue would remain on his record. King said, if needed, the family plans to appeal the case to the Georgia Board of Education.

“If this graduates him, that’s a plus,” King said. “But if this harms him in any other way, that’s something we’ll have to discuss after seeing all the parameters of the decision.”

For the next step, Sam McNair said it’s to, “get back in any type of school, that would be great.”

King said Sam McNair took fall semester final exams last week to not fall any more behind if he was reinstated. Along with studying, King said McNair has worked part-time jobs since the suspension in early December.

“Our objective is to get him back in school, get him graduated, and get him to college,” King said. “I’m not here to argue right and wrong whether or not his actions were harmful.”

King also noted that McNair hasn’t received sexual harassment training and asked the board members to take that into consideration. King added that he’s talked with McNair about being more mindful of his actions, and said, “there were no ill intentions.”

“I’ve worked in corporate America, the government and as adults we are trained every year,” King said. “I would like for him to be held to a lower standard because he’s a child.”

As a former prosecutor, King said one of the worst experiences of his career was punishing people that he later corrected when he was more mature.

“I was punishing them and when they came back to me, I was mad at them,” he said.

In a statement, district spokeswoman Sloan Roach said last month that “hearing officers consider witness testimony, a review of the known facts, and a student’s past disciplinary history, including long-term suspensions that result in alternative school placement when determining consequences.”

King acknowledged the disciplinary history, but said McNair hasn’t had a discipline issue since he was a sophomore.

As of Thursday night, a petition supporting McNair’s case had collected 5,364 signatures on change.org.