CANDLER, N.C. (TODAY) - Outraged parents say their son's elementary school told their 9-year-old to leave his "My Little Pony" backpack at home after the boy complained that he was bullied for bringing it to school.
Noreen Bruce said she became alarmed earlier this month when her son, Grayson, refused to get out of the car to go to school.
His classmates at Candler Elementary School in Candler, N.C., were bullying him because of the My Little Pony backpack he'd been using for about a week, he told her.
Bruce complained to school officials, whose response, she said, was to forbid Grayson from bringing the backpack to school.
Noreen and her husband, Josh, both of whom work at a local restaurant, were shocked by the response.
Researchers who study bullying had much the same reaction.
If the school actually did tell the boy to leave his backpack at home to avoid bullying, "That's placing the blame on the kid," said Sandra Graham, a professor of education at University of California, Los Angeles, who studies the long-term effects of bullying. "The principal is basically saying you brought this on yourself, so deal with it , as opposed to putting the responsibility back on the perpetrators."
A better response, she said, would be to use the incident as a teachable moment. It's not only the bullies who are a concern; it's also the student bystanders and adults who refuse to intervene. The response should involve the whole school community, she said, meeting and planning to "change the climate and culture in the school."
Bruce said her son has been watching the My Little Pony TV show for about a year.
When Grayson's parents reported that the school principal banned Grayson's backpack, friends of the Bruce family set up a Facebook page in support of Grayson. By Wednesday afternoon, the page had attracted more than 55,000 supporters.
The Bruces are scheduled to meet with the superintendent of Buncombe County Schools on Thursday to try to resolve the dispute.