Elementary student asked to wipe off his Ash Wednesday cross

March 7, 2019

A Utah teacher is apologizing after she didn’t allow one of her students to wear a religious symbol at school.

Like millions of Catholics and other Christians around the world, William McLeod received an ash cross on his forehead to commemorate Ash Wednesday -- but the boy’s teacher made him wipe it off when he got to school.

Ash Wednesday is the start of the Easter season.

“They put it on your forehead to show holiness,” said McLeod, who said he was the only student in his class with an ash cross on his forehead. “A lot of students asked me what it is, and I said I’m Catholic and it’s the first day of Lent, it’s Ash Wednesday.”

But McLeod’s cross didn’t stay on very long.

“The teacher walked over and said ‘what is that’ and I was like its ‘Ash Wednesday and I’m Catholic’ and she was like ’no, it’s inappropriate, go take it off.”

McLeod’s attempt to explain the meaning of the symbol fell on deaf ears.

“She took me aside and she said you have to take it off. So she gave me a de-infection wipe -- whatever they are called -- and she made me wipe it off.”

McLeod said it happened as many of his classmates watched.

“They saw the teacher wipe it off, because they wiped it off in front of all my friends,” he said. “I felt really bad.”

The school’s principal called McLeod’s grandmother as soon as she learned of the incident. The teacher also called.

“I was pretty upset,” said Karen Fisher, McLeod’s grandmother. “I asked her if she read the Constitution with the First Amendment and she said ‘no’ and ‘oh.’”

The Davis School District said that what happened is not acceptable and that it wants students of all faiths to feel welcome.

“Why that even came up, I have no idea,” said spokesman Chris Williams. “When a student comes into school with ashes on their forehead, it’s not something we say, ‘Please take off.’”

Later in the day, McLeod received candy and a handwritten message from his teacher.

“It said, ‘William I am so sorry, and I hope we can move things from here,’” said McLeod, who, with his family, hopes this will serve as a valuable learning experience.

“I hope it helps somebody, and I hope it never happens again, and I don’t think it will,” said Fisher.

The school district is conducting an investigation and said the teacher could face disciplinary action.