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Mass. school denies suspending student for drawing

This drawing, released by Chester Johnson, of Taunton, shows a sketch of Jesus on the cross created by his son as part of school work, in Taunton, Mass. on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2009. The 8-year-old boy was sent home from school and ordered to undergo a psychological evaluation after he was asked to make a Christmas drawing and came up with what appeared to be a stick figure of Jesus on a cross, the child's father said Tuesday. This drawing, released by Chester Johnson, of Taunton, shows a sketch of Jesus on the cross created by his son as part of school work, in Taunton, Mass. on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2009. The 8-year-old boy was sent home from school and ordered to undergo a psychological evaluation after he was asked to make a Christmas drawing and came up with what appeared to be a stick figure of Jesus on a cross, the child's father said Tuesday. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
By Eric Tucker
Associated Press Writer / December 15, 2009

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TAUNTON, Mass.—A Massachusetts school district on Tuesday night denied a father's claims that his son was suspended for drawing a stick figure of Jesus on a cross.

The Taunton School District said in a written statement that the second-grade student was never suspended over the sketch and that a drawing circulated to reporters by the boy's father, Chester Johnson, is not the same one that was discovered by the teacher.

The district also denied that the boy and his classmates had been assigned to draw something that reminded them of Christmas or any other religious holiday.

Johnson, who had said his son was ordered to undergo a psychological evaluation after the drawing was discovered, did not return multiple phone messages from The Associated Press on Tuesday night about the school district's statements.

"This incident occurred nearly two weeks ago, it was handled appropriately, and the school staff and family had been working together in a cooperative and positive manner," the district said in a statement posted on its Web site.

School officials did not specify any action they took, but said they followed "well-established protocol," including reviewing the child's records and consulting with school psychologists.

"It is unfortunate that the actions of our district staff have been classified as "religious" in nature when, in fact, they were based solely on the wellbeing of the student," the district's statement said.

Johnson said earlier Tuesday that his son made the drawing Dec. 2 just days after the family had visited the holiday lights display at the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette in Attleboro, where, he said, his son seemed taken with the religious statues he saw there.

"When he seen the crucifixion of Jesus on the cross, that's what he drew," Johnson said. "He liked that. That drew his eye."

Johnson told reporters that administrators were concerned the boy drew Xs for Jesus' eyes, and particularly worried when his son said he'd drawn himself on the cross. He said his son was suspended and ordered to undergo a psychological evaluation. But the school district said it's unclear whether the boy even drew that particular sketch in school.