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Family: 5-year-old with autism accused of sexual harassment by school for hugging other students

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (CNN/WTVC) – A 5-year-old Tennessee boy with autism is punished for hugging.

School officials at East Ridge Elementary say he was overstepping boundaries.

His family said he did not know any better.

“I was sick to my stomach because first of all don’t you understand he’s a 5-year-old,” the 5-year-old’s mother, Summery Putnam said. He’s a child.”

Putnam said she received a call from her son’s teacher at East Ridge Elementary about three weeks ago.

“The teacher called me and she said you need to have a talk with Nathan about boundaries,” Putnam said.

Putnam ‘s son, Nathan is 5 years old. She says he has autism making it difficult for him to understand social cues.

“If you don’t understand how autism works, you’ll think he’s acting out or being defiant,” Putnam said. “But that’s not the situation.”

Putnam says the teacher said Nathan was overstepping boundaries.

She says the teacher accused her son of sexual activities after she was told he hugged a child and kissed another child on the cheek.

“He shouldn’t be treated like this,” Nathan’s grandmother, Debi Amick said.

Amick, took to Facebook asking, “What do you do when a 5-year child is being labeled a sexual predator and accused of sexual harassment by the school system?”

“The kid doesn’t even understand what sex is,” she said.

Hamilton County Schools did confirm the teacher submitted a report to the Department of Child Services.

Spokesperson, Tim Hensley says, according to schools policy, “school personnel are required to report concerns regarding children to DCS.”

It is up to DCS to determine if those reports are acted on by DCS and what form those actions may take.”

“I talked to him ‘I said you can’t hug children’ he said ‘Why?’ I said because Nathan, it’s not allowed,” Hensley said.

The family thinks the school is in the wrong.

“To bring something like this against a child, a special needs child, really he doesn’t understand what he’s done wrong,” Putnam said.

The school system would not comment on whether the teacher filed a report with DCS. A spokesperson said the sources of those complaints are confidential.

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