updated 10/24/2006 9:11:07 PM ET 2006-10-25T01:11:07

The principal of Park High School returned to school Tuesday after a six-day suspension for giving a student a "wedgie." The Livingston School District Board held a special meeting Monday and approved Superintendent Hannibal Anderson's recommendation that Principal Eric Messerli be allowed to return to work.

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"It has been clearly recognized and stated that the behavior is inappropriate, unprofessional and unacceptable," Anderson said.

Messerli's behavior "warrants substantial disciplinary action" but was not sufficient grounds for a recommendation for termination, he said.

Messerli was suspended for two days without pay and four days with pay for grabbing a Park High senior's soccer jersey and pulling it over his head and giving the student a "wedgie" by pulling up on the waist band of his underwear. The incident happened on Oct. 5 at a junior varsity soccer game.

Messerli cried Monday as he read a statement to the board and the public.

"I've made mistakes in my life, but none have had the impact that this one has had," he said.

He said his first reaction was to resign, but he wanted to "tackle this mess" head on.

"I want to live in a world where we don't have to hide when we screw up," he said.

Public comments about Messerli, voiced by students, parents and community members, ranged from reprimand to encouragement.

"What could be better than showing how you bounce back after a mistake?" community member Brad Snow said.

"The days of a school staff person laying hands on a student are long gone," said a woman in the audience.

Park High Vice Principal Bob Stevenson and girls' soccer coach Nate Anderson, who both witnessed the Oct. 5 incident, expressed support for Messerli. They said his actions were a mistake, but they were done in an effort to joke around with the student.

"It was meant in playfulness," Anderson said.

Others, including trustee Greg Brainerd, said Messerli's trying to be on equal level with students was the problem.

He attributed the incident to "loss of traditional authority structure," which he believes should be re-established in the school system.

Anderson said Messerli also received a letter of reprimand.

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