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Sean Estes, Deseret News
William McLeod, a student at Valley View Elementary School in Bountiful, was told by a teacher to remove the ash cross from his forehead on Ash Wednesday, March 6, 2019.

BOUNTIFUL — A Bountiful elementary school teacher has been placed on administrative leave after telling a student to remove the ash cross from his forehead on Ash Wednesday.

"When the teacher saw it, she's like, 'It's inappropriate in our school,'" said William McLeod, a fourth-grader at Valley View Elementary School.

The ash placed on the forehead represents the passage, "For dust you are and to dust you shall return," from the book of Genesis in the Bible.

For William's grandmother, Karen Fisher, Ash Wednesday is "the start of a very holy season for us. … We grow deeper into prayer to try to come closer to God."

When she learned what had happened to William at school, "I was almost speechless because I didn't know what to say," she said.

Sean Estes, Deseret News
William McLeod spends time with his grandmother, Karen Fisher. A student at Valley View Elementary School in Bountiful, William was told by a teacher to remove the ash cross from his forehead on Ash Wednesday, March 6, 2019.

The incident also caused distress for the boy.

"When I went to the office, I was crying because I felt like I was in trouble," William recalled.

But he says his teacher has now sent him an apology message.

"William, I am so sorry about what happened today. I hope we can move forward from this," the teacher's message said.

"I accept her apology because she's actually a really nice teacher," William said.

Fisher said she hopes the incident sparks more understanding for others' religious beliefs and the family hopes William's teacher doesn't lose her job.

Davis School District officials also issued a statement apologizing to the family.

"The actions were unacceptable. No student should ever be asked or required to remove an ash cross from his or her forehead," according to the statement.

"The district knows and recognizes Ash Wednesday as one of the holiest days of the year in the Catholic faith and that it marks the beginning of Lent. Again, Davis School District takes the matter very seriously and is investigating the matter."

The approximately 330,000 Catholics in Utah account for about 10 percent of the population, according to Jean Hill at the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City.

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"We understand that mistakes happen," Hill said in a statement. "The diocese is also very grateful to the young student who used the situation to educate his teacher about a part of his faith and its importance to him."

A Catholic deacon who happens to be a member of the school board came to the school to reapply the ashes, according to Williams.

"Learning about one another is one way we build community across religious, political, racial, ethnic and other borders," Hill said.

Contributing: Associated Press