A California special education teacher has spent the last two days protesting outside his employer's administration building after the school district suspended him for hugging a severely autistic 8-year-old boy. Leo Bennett-Cauchon, who was put on paid leave Feb. 3 after admitting to hugging the boy and letting him sit in his lap, has been holding a vigil (and now a hunger strike) outside the Manteca Unified School District's admin building in the hopes of getting the superintendent to reinstitute his job working with special-needs students, the Manteca Bulletin reports. "I've been trained, if a student asks for a hug, you give a hug," he tells KXTV. "I hugged him and let him sit in my lap when he said 'sit.' … This is a child that needs that physical contact." Meanwhile, police called by the district tell the station they're investigating possible "repeated acts of inappropriate behavior" and "multiple victims."
Bennett-Cauchon adds that although some may not think it's appropriate for teachers to hug students, he often teaches homeless kids or those who've been in foster care and could use a hug, KXTV notes. One of his most ardent supporters: Sharon Anaya, the mother of the 8-year-old boy. Anaya tells the Manteca Bulletin that Bennett-Cauchon and his wife (also a special ed teacher) have been working with her son, Giovanni, for the past three years and that she'll sue the school if the "situation ... threatening her son's 'well-being is not resolved quickly.'" "He has my full support," Anaya tells KXTV. "That's why I felt that this should have remained at a school district-level investigation, rather than involving police." (A Cali teacher was suspended for allegedly posting that teacher-student sex is OK.)