(BUNCOMBE COUNTY, N.C.) — One backpack is at the center of a national firestorm.
The always cheerful cartoon horses of “My Little Pony” have made Grayson Bruce, 9, the subject of bullying at his Buncombe County, N.C., elementary school.
“It made me feel devastated,” Grayson told ABC News of the behavior he has endured. “I didn’t think I was going to get the reaction that I got.”
But it’s the school’s response to the situation that is generating controversy.
“The principal told me that we could no longer bring the bag to school,” Grayson’s mother, Noreen Bruce, explained. “That he as a principal had the right to ban anything that he believed was a distraction.”
That triggered an outpouring of support for Grayson and the backpack he uses as a lunchbox.
Nearly 50,000 likes on the “Support for Grayson” Facebook page and a Change.org petition reaching more than 6,000 signatures and counting, calling for the school to allow Grayson to bring his backpack.
“Saying a lunchbox is a trigger for bullying is like saying a short skirt is a trigger for rape,” said Bruce. “It’s flawed logic.”
“I didn’t know why they weren’t focusing on the big picture,” Grayson added.
“The focus should have been more on educating the entire school body instead of actually isolating the child who is being bullied,” said parenting expert Dr. Karyn Gordon.
A school district official told ABC News: “Our schools take any allegations of bullying seriously and work diligently in all cases to resolve the issues in the best interest of students.”
But Grayson’s mom says it’s not enough.
“The statement sounds great on paper, but they are not implanting any of those things,” Bruce said.
For now, Grayson is being schooled at home, where he can have any backpack he wants.
And his solution? The 9-year-old believes everyone should have the guts to do what they want to do, no matter what others think.
Grayson’s mom said she is meeting with the school superintendent this week.
Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio
Ray Sanchez, CNN
AJ Willingham, CNN