Fourth Grader Suspended Over 'Kick Me' Sign Prank

Anti-bullying expert says suspension doesn't teach students the right lesson.

February 18, 2011, 1:57 PM

Feb. 18, 2011 — -- The age old prank of sticking a "kick me" sign to a classmate's back has landed one fourth grader in serious trouble at a New York City elementary school.

A 9-year-old boy was suspended for two days for sticking a post-it note on another student's back with the words "kick me" scribbled on it. The mother of the suspended student is reportedly upset that her son's joke led to punishment, the New York Post reported.

The suspension comes amid a national debate over what constitutes bullying and when efforts to block bullying have gone too far. The "kick me" punishment has divided experts on whether the school went too far.

The incident happened at P.S. 158 in Manhattan in late January.

"That's been kind of a time honored sign through the years done by generations of students," said Dr. Ronald D. Stephens from the National School Safety Center.

Still, Stephens cautioned that the prank, even if done in jest, could disrupt a classroom.

"You set someone up in the school [with the sign] and it's an invitation for trouble... It falls in the category of bullying and intimidation and generally those things aren't permitted or sanctioned…it's one of those legitimate concerns especially if it could potentially lead to some form of harm or injury," Stephens said.

Anti-bullying expert Barbara Coloroso disagrees with the school's reaction.

Coloroso said that the "kick me" sign is definitely a form of bullying, but that she would have disciplined the student differently.

"It's mean, but suspension doesn't make sense," Coloroso, author of "The Bully, The Bullied and the Bystander," said. "Suspension doesn't give the kid ownership of what they've done or give them a way to work through it."

Not suspending the student doesn't mean agreeing with the old adage that "boys will be boys" or "girls will be mean," Coloroso said.

"I would go up to the kid and say, 'No more, not here, never. That was mean and cruel and this is a safe harbor for every kid. I want to you to take that sticker off the kid right now,'" she said. "Other kids get the message that this is not going to be tolerated in this class…it also sends a message to the bullied student that what he [the bully] did to you is mean and cruel and you don't have to take this."

Coloroso said suspension does nothing to help the classroom dynamic.

School Sticks By Decision in 'Kick Me' Sign Prank

"Suspension really removes the child, but doesn't call attention with all the kids that this is not going to be tolerated in the classroom," she said. "I want the whole classroom to see that the bully is not irretrievable, that he can be repaired, he can come back in and behave."

New York City's Department of Education defended the suspension.

"This was just the latest incident between the students. The principal followed procedure, held parent conferences and offered counseling. The student who was disciplined received instruction in a separate classroom," Marge Feinberg from New York City's Department of Education, said in a statement.

The school would not identify the student or release any information about whether the disciplined student's prank led to any injuries.

T. Elzora Cleveland, the president of the the community education council that includes P.S. 158, said, "We trust that principal's decision has history behind it. The principal from that school is very passionate about the school's students, parents and families."

Over the last 10 years, there's been a spike in school suspensions in New York City.

A report released last month showed that the number of suspensions in New York City schools are at an all time high.

The study, done by the New York Student Safety Coalition and the New York Civil Liberties Union, showed that one in 14 of New York's public school students are suspended each year.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events