District defends kindergartner's sexual misconduct discipline

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By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- An assistant superintendent for the Dysart Unified School District defends calling a kindergartner's actions "sexual misconduct."

Five-year-old Eric Lopez pulled his pants down on the playground at Ashton Ranch Elementary School last Spring and received a punishment of detention for what the school has deemed sexual misconduct.

Eric now has a note that will remain in his permanent file for the duration he attends Dysart schools. His mother was not notified of the incident or the note her son signed in the assistant principal's office until after the fact.

District policy states that a parent does not have to be present for a disciplinary meeting unless the student requests his or her parent.

"He did not know that he could ask for me," said Eric's mother, Erica Martinez "He's 5."

Martinez has been fighting for two months to have the sexual misconduct label removed from her son's file, saying Eric's actions were not sexual in any way. So far, the district has denied her appeal.

Assistant Superintendent Jim Dean says the district follows strict guidelines and definitions set by both the state and federal agencies about what constitutes a sexual offense.

"Our school district uses consistent language for disciplinary infractions in order to provide clarity and track discipline data accurately," Dean said in a written statement.

A state of Arizona initiative called AZ SAFE helps provide clarification to districts to assist them with the collection of information.

Under its definitions for sexual offenses, the state recommends that every district take into account the age and maturity of a student before placing their actions in the sexual offense category.

Martinez does not believe the Dysart Unified School District took her son's age into account when they labeled his "depantsing."

Dean says the district does not focus on labels when disciplining students.

"Even though the discipline labels are consistently used and the discipline form is consistent from grades K-12 to ensure all legal mandates are met, the discussion the administrator has about a situation and consequences are age appropriate," Dean said. "The discussion with a kindergarten student is focused on the specific action, not on the label that is used for classifying the infraction."

Dean says Martinez will now be allowed to provide a rebuttal to the report in Eric's permanent file so she can have her displeasure with the decision on record.

Kindergartner accused of sexual misconduct