A New Jersey school disciplined a boy for bullying under New Jersey’s anti-bullying statute, said to be one of the toughest in the country. The fact that the boy wasn’t actually a bully underscores the difficulty school officials are having to define the limits and scope of the law itself.
Here are the undisputed facts of the case:
In September 2011, a school nurse in the Tenafly Borough schools sent a note home to parents, advising them that a student at an elementary school in the district had contracted head lice. One day, the son of Woi Cheng Lim and Linwen Mao was sitting at a table with the girl who had lice when he pointed her out to other students who were sitting with them.
She complained to a teacher, who requested that the boy apologize, which he did. However, the incident was reported to Sandra Massaro, a guidance counselor at the school and the school’s bullying specialist. She determined that, according to a report she issued, “within the meaning of NJSA 18:37-14, of the New Jersey Anti-Bullying Statute and the HIB policy of the Board of Education of the Borough of Tenafly,” the boy had committed bullying, even though he had made no false statements about the girl.
His comments insulted her and made her feel bad, school officials said. They also made the boy’s teacher give a lecture to his entire class about the need to be kind to each other. This lecture further embarrassed the boy, since everyone in the class knew he was the source of the reprimand.
The parents sued Ms Massaro, Superintendent Lyn Trager, and former state Superintendent Christopher Cerf, who said the case “stretched the definition of HIB to the outer edge of legislative intent [and] districts are struggling to find the right balance between common sense and the … provisions of the law.” Parents sought to have all records of the bullying removed from the boy’s record and to recover legal fees, since they claim their son continues to suffer from being labeled a bully, unable to participate in frank discussions with other students while this label hangs over him.
No details of a settlement have been released, according to an article in The Record, but a settlement is said to be close.