A petition for Sam McNair, a Georgia teen suspended from school earlier this month after hugging a teacher, is gaining steam around the Internet.
The petition, which had over 4,000 signatures on Wednesday afternoon, calls on Gwinnett County Public Schools to overturn McNair’s punishment. According to the Change.org petition, which was started by a Los Angeles woman, “The punishment does NOT fit the violation.”
The high school senior was suspended until next December after a teacher claimed McNair sexually harassed her, according to CBS Atlanta. Video surveillance footage of the incident shows McNair hugging the teacher from behind before she promptly pushes him away. The teacher claims that McNair’s lips and cheek touched her neck, though McNair vehemently denies this, per CBS Atlanta.
McNair, who is a star athlete, told the outlet that he has hugged his teachers in the past but was never disciplined for it. However, the teacher in question said in a discipline report that she had previously warned McNair about inappropriate hugs.
In an email to The Huffington Post, McNair’s mother expressed disbelief over the yearlong suspension.
“How can an innocent hug turn into such a nightmare, striping a young man of every opportunity to receive his HS Diploma and receive the scholarships that he is being recruited for [all sic]?” wrote April McNair.
According to ABC's "Good Morning America," the school released a statement clarifying that “hearing officers consider witness testimony, a review of the known facts, and a student’s past disciplinary history when determining consequences” in disciplinary issues. The district cannot comment further on a pending case.
While the outlet notes that McNair does have a history of disciplinary misconduct, he has never been punished before for sexual harassment.
ABC News legal anchor Dan Abrams says that he thinks the school’s decision makes sense.
“It’s a tough sentence but they say he'd been in trouble before and that’s why he got the stiff sentence,” said Abrams.
McNair’s mother told HuffPost that she is in the process of appealing the decision.