TAUNTON -- The story smacked of religious bias during the Christmas season: An elementary school allegedly suspended a second-grader, it went, and required the boy to undergo a psychological evaluation after he drew a picture of Jesus Christ on the cross.
But today, Taunton school officials challenged the account, first reported in the Taunton Daily Gazette and later repeated by the boy's father. The reports have created a media frenzy in this city south of Boston.
Julie Hackett, superintendent of Taunton Public Schools, said the student was never suspended and that neither he nor other students at the Maxham Elementary School were asked by their teacher to sketch something that reminded them of Christmas or any religious holiday, as the newspaper reported and the father suggested.
She said it was unclear whether the boy -- who put his name above his stick-figure portrait of Christ on the cross -- even drew it in school.
"The inaccuracies in the original media story have resulted in a great deal of criticism and scrutiny of the system that is unwarranted," she said.
She said the boy's drawing was seen as a potential cry for help when the student identified himself, rather than Jesus, as the figure on the cross, which sparked the teacher to alert the school's principal and staff psychologist.
She declined to comment on whether the teacher had reason to believe that the student might be crying out for help.
She added: "Religion had nothing to do with this at all.''
Hackett pointed out that Taunton is known as "The Christmas City." Visitors come from across the region to see the annual lighting on the Taunton green, according to the city's website.
Amid the flurry of media attention, the boy's father held court today at his girlfriend's apartment here, demanding the school district compensate him for his family's pain and suffering.
"It hurts me that they did this to my kid," Chester Johnson, the boy's father, told the Globe. "They can't mess with our religion; they owe us a small lump sum for this.''
On the beat
Columnist Adrian Walker says UMass Dartmouth is shaken after revelations that one of the Marathon bomb suspects was a student there. Read more