On Jan. 13, Sierra Carter received a surprising phone call from her daughter's elementary school teacher. The fifth grader had drawn an "inappropriate" picture in class.
The drawing — a pink pig with a necktie in the shape of what could be interpreted as male genitalia — was brought to the teacher's attention by a classmate who'd informed them that Carter's daughter drew "boy parts on a pig."
The 11-year-old, according to her mom, told her teacher that she drew a "bow tie," not "boy parts."
"The teacher told her, 'I'm going to have to give it to the principal and ask him how he wants to handle it,'" which she did, Carter tells Yahoo Life. "They didn't even talk to my daughter, didn't try to investigate it at all. Nothing. The principal just said to write her up."
That was on a Friday. On the following Tuesday, Carter met with the school's vice principal, a social worker and her daughter to discuss the drawing. "That was when I saw it for the first time and I was beside myself," she explains. "This is very much a bow tie."
Attached to the drawing, Carter alleges, was a stapled piece of paper describing the various ways her daughter had reacted to the teacher when pressed about the drawing. Carter says she was told that the photo and its attached paper were going in her daughter's student file, at the request of the school's principal.
"I said, 'I would like to discuss this with him as well,'" she recalls saying in the meeting. "So somebody went and got him and he came in. I pointed to [the drawing] right away and I said to him, 'I'm not quite sure what's wrong with this. This is a bow tie.' And he argued with me. He goes, 'Well, bow ties have a bow.' I'm like, 'Well, she's 11, and when she was drawing a bow tie, to her, this is her interpretation of that.' I was like, 'This is very clearly a bow tie.'"
"I feel like every adult along the way should have shot this down," she says. "They should have looked at it, and they should have at least asked her, 'What is this? What did you draw?' And then if she said, 'It's a bowtie,' shut it down. You can't just sit there and assume or ostracize a child for something like that. Because one boy thinks it's something, that's the word you're gonna take?"
When she got home that night, Carter took to TikTok to vent about the situation in a video that’s since garnered over 600K views with nearly 14K comments, many of which are from concerned parents raising a debate about whether the school's actions were befitting the alleged offense.
"The social worker could have stopped this issue in seconds, shameful! The adults have their heads in the gutter," one comment read.
"Teacher here... bow tie, but woulda had to show my fellow teachers because it’s cute and funny," another read. "Nothing more."
"Glad you stood up for your daughter. That’s 100% a bow tie and she is so innocent. Sad this happened," a supporter wrote, with another adding: "I am a teacher. Definitely a bow tie. It is in the wrong place to be the other."
Carter says she requested that the school give her the drawing, which they obliged, before explaining that they "needed to make a copy" of it to place in her daughter's file.
“I should have just grabbed it," she says now. "I told the principal, 'I honestly feel like she is owed an apology at this point for the entire thing. And he was like, 'Well, who do you expect to apologize to her?' It was just awful."
The next week, after the heated meeting, Carter says the vice principal sat in her daughter's classroom the entire day.
"I don't know what that was about or what the true reason was," she admits, but it was enough for her to make the decision to transfer her two daughters — 11 and 8 — to another school district citing concerns of emotional stress for them.
The district's superintendent, John Denney confirmed with Yahoo Life there is nothing in Carter's daughter's file pertaining to the photo. In a separate statement, the school district acknowledged the matter by saying "it is unfortunate that a one-sided narrative has been created on social media that paints our staff in a negative light. As with every situation, there are two sides to this story."
"In this case, a student appropriately brought concerns to the attention of our staff," the statement continued. "In response, our staff handled the situation with compassion and discretion. Staff contacted the student’s parents to discuss the situation. No student was singled out or ostracized. Every effort was made to protect the privacy and dignity of all students. Nothing has been placed in any student’s school records related to this matter."
Carter says she and her husband were "never notified" of the photo being removed from the student file. “Last we knew, the principal made a copy of it and said it would remain in her file.”
As seen in an email, obtained by Yahoo Life, from Denney to Carter about the situation, Denney clarifies it is a "common process" for teachers to take notes about such incidents to "look back on if a similar thing occurs later in the year," reiterating that her daughter's "official file has no reference to or indication of the situation in question."
Still, Carter says the real issue is not about the drawing or the student file, but rather, the mistreatment she feels her daughter experienced at the hands of adults — and the responsibility for educators to "ask questions" so kids don't feel "ostracized" or "targeted" or "embarrassed” at school.
The mom of three, who lost her 7-year-old son Carter six years ago to mitochondrial disease, says the passing of her eldest child inspired her to publish a children's book last year, Meet Carter, and to be an advocate for "kids who do things differently" so adults can "understand them and find a mutual ground."
That, she admits, is what fuels her message to school educators now.
"Kids are trying to acclimate to school again [post COVID], and I think teachers may be too quick to act on situations that shouldn't be taken this way," she explains. "I just hope we can stop, take a breath, try to look at each situation for what it is and talk to the students, you know, get their side of the story. Find out all the facts before you jump on a disciplinary thing like this. This never had to happen."
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