Boy's Suspension for Hugging School Bus Aide Makes Mockery of Special Needs Kids

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hugSigh. As if we needed further proof that life is tough for parents raising special needs children, the outrageous treatment of a Missouri teen with Down syndrome falls under the infuriating category. Aleczander Fujimoto has been suspended from his school for sexual harassment of a school bus aide.

Or, in his mind, giving his school bus aide a hug. And it's Alec's mind that matters here, right? He's the one being punished, but it doesn't seem like anyone cares about why Alec's hug crossed the line. This is the problem parents of special needs kids are facing every day, and the number-one issue school districts need to address.

It doesn't matter what happened if a child doesn't know what they did is wrong. It's like disciplining a baby. They're not supposed to "get it." Most people are fairly familiar with the physical markers of Down syndrome -- small ears and mouth, eyes that slant upward, and a flattened nose -- it's the way the birth defect affects a child's social and mental development that means society can't apply the same rules to kids like Alec that are applied to kids with 46 chromosomes. His condition drives the inappropriate behavior, not anything cruel or twisted inside of him.

The Missouri school is claiming the aide told teenage Alec "no" when he asked if he could give her a hug, but he didn't take no for an answer. On top of that, they say he laid on the woman and mimicked a sex act. His mom, Tonia, says her son is just a hugger. And when he hugs, he gets excited. He jumps up and down. She's saying there was no sexual intention, although she's also asking for video of the incident to confirm her suspicions, which the school is refusing to hand over.

So let's just suppose the kid's excitement this time was a little surprise for the school bus aide. Let's say she really did feel violated. It's not outside the realm of possibility -- kids with Down syndrome are not immune to sexual urges, and a woman doesn't have to accept anyone rubbing up against her in an intimate manner.

When is someone going to actually talk to this child and tell him that hugging someone who says "no" is never OK? That's the way you stop a child with Down syndrome from so-called "sexual harassment." Not suspension.

Instead of trying to fit these kids into the same boxes as their peers and punishing special needs kids for not being able to change, it's time school districts do the changing.

Is a hug sexual harassment when the child didn't know they were doing anything wrong?


Image via kevin dooley/Flickr

school, special needs

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nonmember avatar Sara

Thank you for acknowledging that it MAY have been what the aide felt it was. I'm not saying what the child's intentions were, but there have been a lot of accounts of this story that refuse to acknowledge that this child may have been doing something sexual. As a Special Education teacher, I have dealt with a lot of students who are in the process of learning what is and is not appropriate, and even in early intervention (in preschool!) I have taught children what is and is not appropriate. We do need to address these things that they don't understand! I also think it is ridiculous to suspend him for this. The disability legally has to be taken into consideration when talking about suspensions, and this is absurd regardless of what the boy was doing.

KBW2 KBW2

There's obviously more to this story. I taught special needs kids for years and even the child with a very low cognition can and must learn "no". There are processes in place for punishing children with special needs, numerous mtgs and actual laws about how it's to be handled. I bet the school system followed all the protocol or else theyd be slapped with a massive lawsuit.

Yes, this child needs to work on social skills and that should be a goal in his IEP- and since those are confidential, he may be working on that.

phoen... phoenixmom2011

It comes down to they obviously have not complied with all the laws regarding the situation, the mother asked to see the video and they are refusing. If they are right then yes appropriate measures must be taken, however because they will not allow her to see the tape it makes me wonder.

nonmember avatar Shannon

I taught high school kids at a school for special needs students. The boy may genuinely not know better, but many of the boys I worked with were cognitively low-functioning but had crushes on other students, told women they were pretty and asked to marry them. Most of the staff worked to teach them that they needed to ask before giving a hug, and to back off when told "no", but the kids sometimes forgot. I have also been on the receiving end of hugs from some of my students that would've made me extremely uncomfortable (if not downright creepy) if I didn't realize they didn't understand what they were doing. However, the fact that the woman was a school bus aide means she should have some idea that he probably didn't mean to harass her. Aides are placed on buses to help supervise special needs students. I don't know the whole story, and I think the video should be shown to the mom, but it seems that the aide may have taken things too seriously and the student needs more lessons on appropriate ways to show affection.

nonmember avatar Shannon

And depending on the school district, they may NOT have followed all the rules re: suspension of a student with special needs, and now they're hoping to snow or stonewall the parents and avoid a lawsuit. Happens all the time, unfortunately.

conno... connorsmom1221

So sad, these special needs kids have so many challenges already.I don't think he was being malicious giving the aide a hug, my son is a hugger. They sometimes forget boundaries. I think it is strange that they will not let the Mother see the video. I don't think this is the end of the story.

nonmember avatar Vicki

My teenage son has Down Syndrome and ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder). Not long ago he patted the bus drivers breast as he was getting off the bus. Thank goodness our drivers don't freak out, they realize that special needs kids aren't in the same category as "normal" kids.
She made a point of telling him "no" and that that was unacceptable. Then she made sure to tell his dad what he had done, so we also had a talk with him. I don't know why he did it, but it hasn't happened again.
Should special needs kids be treated differently from other kids? No, my son was raised with the same rules and regulations as my other kids - he's expected to behave and have manners both inside and outside of my home - but I also take into consideration that he isn't "normal", sometimes he doesn't understand what he's done wrong,
People should take that into consideration before they have a "knee jerk" reaction when a special needs child does something out of the spectrum of "normal".

steph... steph2884

I agree 100% with Vicki. 

Mom2KAMD Mom2KAMD

The article doesn't tell about the cognitive level of the boy, only that he has special needs.  He may or may not have known better.  The bus aid knows him and I am sure she knows whether or not he knew better.  I have worked with special ed children for 17 years, even the lowest functioning students can learn from consistant consequences.  I hate it when the "special ed" card is played.  There are people with minimal disabilities that have that label, does that mean they shouldn't be held responsible for their actions, either?  I hate stereotypes, no matter which one it is, every person and circumstance is unique. 


I do agree that it is shady that his mom was not allowed to see the tape.

PonyC... PonyChaser

Ok, first off, hugging isn't a crime, and it's about time our schools learned that.


However... IF the account in the linked story is correct, this wasn't a "hug". Quoting: "Alec approached (the school bus aide) on the bus for a hug and she told him no and tried to push him off her. He proceed to lay on her and (mimic a sex act, while clothed). She tried to push him off her and hollered for help..."


That is not a hug, and it is not appropriate in any situation. IF it is factual (and honestly, the video should be made available to the parents - that's completely out of line), then punishment is warranted. Perhaps not a suspension, but definite consequences of some kind. It should also be used as a learning opportunity for this young man. Because in no context is that action appropriate, special needs or not.

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