Student Holding Sign as Public Punishment Sparks Debate

The student has been standing near a school, holding up a sign explaining he stole his father's cell phone

Parents in San Diego’s Ramona community were outraged Wednesday over one family’s decision to teach their child a lesson in a very public manner.

According to parents, a 6th grade student has been standing across the street from Mt. Woodson Elementary School for the past two mornings as kids are dropped off for school. As he stands outside, the student has been holding a large, handwritten sign that explains exactly what he did to wind up there.

“I stole my dad’s cell phone. I racked up a big phone bill then blamed everyone but me. Even though they had proof, to try to hide it, I buried the phone in the yard. I’ve learned my lesson and now have a criminal record. I’m working on being a better person and you should learn from my mistakes,” the sign reads.

NBC 7 spoke to one mother, Celeste Taylor, who said her daughter is the one the boy was texting with on his father’s cell phone. Taylor said she received a phone call from the boy’s mother last week saying he racked up a $700 phone bill.

Still, she and some other parents don’t think the very public punishment necessarily fits the crime.

On Wednesday morning, some parents stood near Mt. Woodson Elementary located at 17427 Archie Rd. with signs that read “Humiliation is Not Parenting” and “Love is Forgiveness.”

Mother Lisa Filice said seeing the boy standing on the street made both her and her young daughter very upset.

“My daughter is eight and she said, ‘You know, Mom, this is bullying. Why are they doing this to this kid? Couldn’t he be grounded?’ That’s what she said. Why is he having to stand out here?” said Filice.

Likewise, Taylor said she’s against the public shaming.

“It made me want to cry looking at him,” she said. “He had his hood on, he was holding his sign, looking down. It made me want to cry.”

Taylor agreed that what they boy did was wrong, but said he should’ve been given some sort of other punishment.

“To lie and take his dad’s cell phone and not tell his parents and run up a phone bill, and deceive, that was absolutely wrong. But I feel that to have him stand in front of the school with a sign saying what he did is humiliating and I don’t believe it’s the right choice,” said Taylor.

“I think having him do something else at home or maybe raise the money to pay off the phone bill is one thing, but I don’t believe that humiliation is the right punishment,” she continued.

On the other side of the argument, some local parents agreed that this is certainly one way to discipline a child and perhaps teach a valuable lesson.

A child psychologist told NBC 7 this kind of punishment will make the child feel worse when he likely already feels bad enough about what he did. The psychologist also said embarrassing the boy in public like this could lead to depression and perhaps backfire on the parents down the line.

Meanwhile, faculty at Mt. Woodson Elementary said this is not a school matter and will not comment on the incident in detail. The San Diego County Sheriff's Department will not confirm whether or not the child has any criminal record since he is a minor.

Mt. Woodson Elementary School principal Robin Arend confirmed this happened across the street from the school.

“The student did stand out front, across the street from the school, and he was holding a sign. We’ve taken all measures possible to make sure that our students are safe here at Mt. Woodson but, ultimately, this is a situation between a parent and their son,” she told NBC 7 on Wednesday.

Ramona Unified School District Superintendent Robert Graeff said Mt. Woodson Elementary School received advanced notice from the boy’s parents regarding the public punishment.

Graeff said school administrators then contacted the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department due to the unusual nature of the incident.

The superintendent said deputies, school administrators and the child’s parents all met beforehand to discuss the plan to have the boy hold the sign outside.

Graeff said school officials tried to dissuade the parents from the punishment but they ultimately decided to go through with it, as it was their choice.

Graeff said the punishment is not a parenting tactic he would personally recommend. He said school faculty is aware of the situation and supports the student.

NBC 7 got in touch with the child's parents Wednesday eveing to get their side of the story.

The parents, who wanted to remain anonymous, gave the following statement to NBC 7:

"We want to thank everyone who has commented in regards to this story. Most people have been very supportive in their comments and we truly appreciate the positive support. Deciding to exact this punishment the way that we did was very difficult for us. We debated long and hard about what to do.

My husband and I have been dealing with this type of behavior for several years and have tried everything to stop it. Nothing made any difference. When this last episode occurred our son told us the reason he did it was 'to be cool.'

When he said that, it occurred to us that doing something that showed him everybody didn't think it was cool might just make a difference. We spoke to detectives and the school to ensure that we were not doing anything that could be considered harmful to our child. When we informed our son what we were going to do he asked 'please can I just go to juvenile hall instead of carrying a sign in front of the school letting everyone know what I had did?'

That was our answer - This was the right punishment. We believe after much discussion and soul searching 'A little humiliation now was much better than a jail sentence later.”

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