The Utah teacher on administrative leave for making a nine-year-old Catholic student wash the Ash Wednesday cross off his forehead, has apologized for the incident, characterizing it as a misunderstanding.
Moana Patterson, who teaches fourth-grade at Valley View Elementary School in Bountiful, Utah, said Monday that she thought the ash cross was just dirt, not a religious symbol, when she gave her nine-year-old student William McLeod a wet wipe and demanded he clean it off.
William told Salt Lake City’s Fox 13 six days ago that he explained to his teacher multiple times the black mark on his forehead was for a religious observance.
Patterson denied knowing that on Monday.
Moana Patterson, who teaches fourth-grade at Valley View Elementary School in Bountiful, Utah, told reporters on Monday that she didn’t know the ash cross not a religious symbol
William McCleod, 9, said that he had explained to his teacher multiple times the black mark on his forehead was for a religious observance
‘My entire life has been centered around respecting diversity,’ Patterson said during a press conference at Utah state capitol in Salt Lake City where she stood surrounded by supportive parents and students holding signs.
‘I would never intentionally disrespect any religion or any sacred symbol.’
Utah is a predominantly Mormon state, with Members of the affiliated Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints making up about two-thirds of the population.
Mormons don’t celebrate Ash Wednesday. Republican state Sen. Todd Weiler, who represent the Bountiful region, said Patterson’s faux pas is what happens when people aren’t exposed to other cultures or religions.
‘It’s not always necessarily mean spirited,’ Weiler said.
‘My entire life has been centered around respecting diversity,’ Patterson said during a press conference at Utah state capitol in Salt Lake City where she stood surrounded by supportive parents and students holding signs
Valley View Elementary School students show support for teacher Moana Patterson at a news conference in Salt Lake City
Patterson departed the news conferences after reading her prepared statement, taking no questions from reporters.
The boy’s grandmother, Karen Fisher, said she doesn’t want Patterson fired, but suggested she didn’t completely believe the teacher’s explanation for her actions.
‘It’s kind of hard to swallow, a little, for me,’ Fisher said. ‘There needs to be training for all religions, all beliefs.’
William had just attended Catholic mass before returning to school where Patterson confronted him and called his ash marking ‘inappropriate’ before giving him a hand wipe and demanding he clean it off in front of his classmates, the boy’s grandmother said.
William said he received candy and a handwritten note (pictured) from his teacher that read: ‘William, I am so sorry. I hope we can move things from here’
Patterson was called into a meeting with the principal and the school board about the incident and called Fisher to apologize, Davis School District spokesman Chris Williams said last week.
The Davis School District opened an investigation into Patterson’s action and placed her on paid administrative leave.
William said he later received candy and a handwritten note from his teacher that read: ‘William, I am so sorry. I hope we can move things from here.’
An estimated 330,000 Catholics live in Utah, making up about 10 percent of the state’s population, according to Salt Lake City Catholic Diocese spokeswoman Jean Hill.
Patterson (right) has been on leave since March 6 for telling William McLeod (left) the ash cross on his forehead was ‘inappropriate’
The Davis School District is currently conducting an investigation and said the Valley View Elementary School teacher could face consequences
Tiffany Ivan Spence, who said she’s a parent of one of William’s classmates, said she also thought the cross on the boy’s forehead was dirt. She said it was a misunderstanding and not an attack against religion.
‘He came into my home and to me it looked just like a smudge,’ Ivan Spence said. ‘When I first saw Will, my instinct was to also hand him a wipe. It would have been common sense for any person who cares about children to help them if they didn’t know they had that on their head.’
Williams said there are no updates about the district’s ongoing investigation into the incident.