In two cases stemming from a more stringent anti-bullying law in New Jersey, the state education commissioner has upheld school districts' decisions that bullying had occurred and that the students' behaviors merited discipline.
New Jersey Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf has rejected challenges in two cases from parents who objected to discipline received by their children for violating the state's new anti-law. In each case--one from Tenafly and one from East Brunswick--Cerf upheld rulings made by administrative law judges that the schools boards were within their rights to impose discipline on the students for running afoul of policies required by the state law that prohibit harassment, intimidation and bullying.
The law went into effect in September 2011. During 2011-12, New Jersey schools reported 12,024 instances of harassment, intimidation and bullying, compared with 3.412 the year before, according to education department statistics.
The Tenafly incident stems from September 2011 when a fourth-grade student "embarrassed and offended a fellow classmate" by explaining to others in the class that the classmate had dyed her hair because she had head lice.
The school disciplined the boy who made the comment by giving him "a learning assignment to encourage greater sensitivity of the feelings of others," education department documents state. The child's parents reacted by demanding a written apology from the school and $50,000 in compensation.
An administrative law judge dismissed the parent's appeal and found that the student's comments constituted harassment, intimidation and bullying as defined by law. The student defended his comments by saying he was simply telling the truth, but the judge found that the boy "should have realized that pointing out his classmate's problem would hurt her feelings."
The East Brunswick case took place in November 2011 and involved a sixth-grade student who "insulted and demeaned a fellow classmate by saying that he 'danced like a girl' and by calling him 'gay,' " documents state. School officials determined that the comments violated the district's anti-bullying policy and was given three days of detention.
The boy's father appealed that finding, seeking punitive damages and asking that the classmate who accused the boy of harassment be given the same three-day detention.
In dismissing the appeal, the administrative law judge found that the boy "was not a chronic troublemaker, but his actions were hurtful and unkind; the school district's response of assigning him to detention was designed to direct (his) behavior in a manner that was consistent with his age and that recognized that this was his first offense."
Cerf concurred with the administrative law judge that the district did not act arbitrarily, capriciously or unreasonably when it gave the boy detention.