A 13-year-old Kansas eighth-grader says he was suspended from school on Wednesday because he refused to take off his Vera Bradley purse.
His furious mother says it is discrimination because girls are allowed to have purses with no repercussions.
"I don't think everyone should be treated differently," Skyler Davis said Wednesday. "Everyone should have the same privileges."
Anderson County School District Superintendent Don Blome said Thursday that he could not discuss the specific case because of privacy concerns. However, he said all students, whether female or male, are prevented from having bags, purses, satchels and backpacks in the core classrooms like English and math. The bags must be stored in lockers during class time, he said.
"We strive to make sure we treat every kid alike and there are classroom rules we expect kids to follow," he told KCTV5 on Thursday. "They can bring (bags and purses) to school. There's no policy against that. But the classroom rules are that they can't bring it to the classroom."
Skyler is a student at Anderson County Senior-Junior School. He said he has been carrying the colorful fabric Vera Bradley bag over his shoulder for some time with no issues.
"It expresses myself and I think everyone else can wear it, so I wear it as well," Skyler told KCTV5's Dave Jordan.
He was summoned to Assistant Principal Don Hillard's office after he wouldn't take it off.
"I went to the office and I refused to take it off, and they suspended me," the teen explained.
School personnel then called his mother, Leslie Willis, to come get her son.
"I was a little furious, and I called the school [and spoke to Hillard] to reverify the story, and yeah, he refused to take off his Vera Bradley bag, nothing more to it," Willis said.
She said she reviewed the student handbook but did not see a mention to bags or purses. She questions the suspension and the timing.
"Skyler has been going to school since August with that same Vera Bradley bag on, hasn't taken it off. What is the problem?" she asked.
In response to Blome's comments Thursday, Willis told KCTV5 that the bag rule should be a formal part of the student handbook so that there is no confusion.
She said she supports her son and his choices. She said if he wants to carry a Vera Bradley purse or any other type of bag that he should be able to do so without being punished.
In an email, she said that her son went back to school at 1:30 p.m. Thursday with the bag in tow.
"He was pulled into an office, behind closed doors to tell him that he was never suspended for refusing to take off his purse, he got suspended for foul language," she wrote. "That's not the story that Mr. Hillard told me yesterday. Skyler is only 13 years old. He's just a child. And if this isn't bullying, I don't know what is."
The family appreciates the outpouring of support that they have received from across the country.
"I think it is pretty cool that Skyler is making a stand and it's causing somebody to listen," she said.
Dakota Haight said the situation with his brother is unfair.
"I've seen girls wear short shorts. Why don't they get kicked out? But then he gets kicked out for a purse? That doesn't make sense. It's not right," Haight said.
But Blome insists that the district does not discriminate based on gender.
"We are not going out there to discriminate against anybody," he said.
He said he has been superintendent for six years and that even before his arrival that junior high students couldn't bring bags into the core classes.
"That's been a long-standing rule," he said, adding he believes it dates back at least 10 years.
He explained that if a student refused to abide by the rule that a teacher would send the student to the office. If the student again refused to comply, then Blome said the student could be suspended.
Willis said her son was criticized by school personnel on Thursday for going public.
"Skyler can speak freely about what's bothering him. I have taught him this. Now the school is upset because he spoke out," she wrote.
Blome said he hasn't spoken with the teen or his mother. He said he didn't know whether any staff member would have criticized the student for speaking publicly, but said the district certainly cannot stop the student or his mother from doing so.
The district has mailed to Willis a formal notification of the disciplinary action and the reasoning behind it. Blome said he cannot release it to KCTV5 without Willis' permission.
Willis said she was told that the suspension wouldn't be lifted until Skyler stops wearing the purse, which he had said on Wednesday that he wouldn't do.
But with some time to reflect, the teen is unlikely to dig in his heels forever.
"We're going to have to find some compromise in this," his mother said. She didn't detail what that could be.
Two stores that sell Vera Bradley purses have contacted KCTV5 to offer products to Skyler. Word of the story has reached the purse maker.
"Vera Bradley creates products that allow all of us to express our individual style. We encourage self-expression through color and design," the company said in a statement issued to KCTV5 when asked about Skyler's situation.
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