A Utah school district has placed a teacher on administrative leave for forcing a 9-year-old student to remove the cross of ashes from his forehead on Ash Wednesday.
Student William McLeod, who is Catholic, was left crying and embarrassed by the experience in a Davis School District classroom, grandmother Karen Fisher said. The teacher told McLeod that the cross was inappropriate and forced him to wash it off, according to Fisher's account of the incident.
"We take the matter very seriously and are investigating the situation. The teacher is currently on administrative leave," Davis School District spokesman Christopher Williams told USA TODAY in a written statement on Thursday.
"We are sorry about what happened and apologize to the student and the family for the teacher’s actions. The actions were unacceptable. No student should ever be asked or required to remove an ash cross from his or her forehead," the statement reads.
Ash Wednesday – officially known as the Day of Ashes – is a day of repentance, when Christians confess their sins and profess their devotion to God. The ashes are placed on a worshiper's forehead in the shape of a cross. The symbol is meant to show that a person belongs to Jesus Christ, and it also represents a person's grief and mourning for their sins.
In an interview with Salt Lake City's Fox 13, McLeod said he was the only student in his class who had an ash cross. When he was asked to remove the cross by his teacher, he says he tried to explain its significance.
“She took me aside and she said, ‘You have to take it off,’” McLeod told the station. “She gave me a disinfection wipe – whatever they are called – and she made me wipe it off.”
Williams says the teacher gave the student a handwritten apology. He also told USA TODAY that the school district worked with the family to have an ordained Catholic deacon apply an ash cross to McLeod's forehead.
Contributing: Brett Molina, USA TODAY; Dwight Adams, Indianapolis Star; The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Utah teacher on leave after forcing student to wash off Ash Wednesday cross