An elementary school in Buncombe County, N.C., banned 9-year-old Grayson Bruce from carrying his My Little Pony backpack earlier this month saying it triggered bullying.
Kids in the school picked on Grayson for carrying the fuzzy, blue bag with cartoon pony Rainbow Dash's face on it. One morning it got to be too much.
"He didn't want to get out of the car because kids were being really mean," his mom, Noreen Bruce, told USA TODAY Network. She decided to get the school counselor involved, but didn't get the help she expected.
"One of her suggestions was to hide it," Noreen Bruce said. "She said that if you have something like this you're asking for trouble." Later, the principal called and told her to keep the backpack at home.
Bruce didn't agree: "I said, 'You're missing the picture here. You're telling him that it's OK for them to make fun of him."
The bullying was so bad that Grayson was afraid to go back to school. "One kid told him to go home to kill himself," she said. "Things I can't believe 9-year-olds are saying to each other."
Bruce is now homeschooling Grayson and looking to place him in a new school next fall. But first, she's meeting with the school's superintendent Thursday to talk about the incident.
"We want to talk to them about how the staff handled it and what's going to happen in the future," she said. "Maybe there's other things we can do, more training, more assemblies. There's gotta be a better way."
Bruce has three more kids who will grow up in the same district. She wants things to be better for them, she said.
Jason Rhodes, the communications director for Buncombe County Schools, said the school "wants to resolve the issue" but said he couldn't legally comment on a specific student's situation.
"First and foremost our schools take any allegations of bullying seriously and work diligently in all cases to resolve the issues in the best interest of students. We have programs in place to prevent, report and intervene to keep our students safe and protected," he wrote in a statement.
In the meantime, Bruce and two friends started a Facebook campaign that has more than 32,000 likes. She says it's a space for people to offer encouraging comments to Grayson and other children.