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Student suspended for a year for hugging teacher

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DULUTH, GA (CBS46) -

An online petition in support of a Duluth High School senior who was suspended for a year after he hugged a teacher is gaining support. 

The petition on Change.org asked the Gwinnett County Public School District to overturn the suspension of Sam McNair, calling it is an "extreme punishment" that "does not fit the violation."

As of Tuesday afternoon, the petition had gained more than 1,000 online signatures.

McNair, 17, was suspended on December 3 when a school hearing officer found he violated the Gwinnett County Public Schools' rules on sexual harassment.

"Something so innocent can be perceived as something totally opposite," said McNair.

A video of the hug, captured by a surveillance camera, shows McNair enter a room, place his arms around the back and front of the teacher and tuck his head behind her neck. 

According to a discipline report, the teacher alleged McNair's cheeks and lips touched the back of her neck and cheek. 

McNair denied he kissed his teacher or sexually harassed her. 

McNair said he regularly hugs his teachers and has never been disciplined for it in the past. 

According to the discipline report, the teacher alleged she warned McNair that hugs were inappropriate but he disputes that.

April McNair, Sam's mother, said she was dumbfounded when she was informed of the suspension and believes the district had a responsibility to notify her if her son's hugging was becoming problematic before it suspended him and derailed his college plans.

"He's a senior. He plays football and was getting ready for lacrosse and you're stripping him of even getting a full scholarship for athletics for college," said April McNair.

Sharese Shields Ages, an education attorney not associated with the case, said school districts have a responsibility to crack down on sexual harassment but also thoroughly educate students about what constitutes sexual harassment. 

"The school district should do a very good job communicating to both parents and students what appropriate contact is between students and teachers and to the extent that they have not done that it was an extreme punishment for the student," said Shields Ages.

Sloan Roach, a spokesperson for Gwinnett County Public Schools, would not comment on McNair's case but said in a statement that "hearing officers consider witness testimony, a review of the known facts, and a student's past disciplinary history...when determining consequences."

Sam McNair does have a discipline record and previous suspensions but not for sexual harassment and he does not believe he should be punished for showing affection. 

"You never know what someone's going through. A hug might help," said Sam McNair.

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