The debate over enforcing statues that attempt to limit bullying versus First Amendment rights and free speech concerns will likely continue for a while, including the question of how schools should be required to handle issues. In New Jersey, a new free speech lawsuit will push the envelope on just that.
The case, based on an incident at a school in Tenafly, is a strange one indeed.
In the case, fourth grade parents were informed via a letter from school officials that there was at least one incident of head lice in class. Apparently it was generally known who the student with head lice was.
In class, while students were working in groups, one student asked another (apparently the one who had contracted head lice) why she had dyed her hair. A third student spoke up and said she had dyed her hair because she was the one who had head lice.
New Jersey’s Harassment, Bullying and Intimidation (HIB) protocols for schools are very strict, and the case above ended up being treated by the school as a bullying incident. The third student who made the comments about the girl having lice was then put through the HIB wringer. According to the article at The Daily Signal:
“The incident was reported to the Tenafly, N.J., school’s bullying specialist, who “launched a formal investigation and had [the accused bully]. removed from class so she could proceed to question him about the incident,” according to the lawsuit. The specialist also interviewed other students and required [the accused bully] to complete a sensitivity assignment.”
This is a tough situation. No doubt, the girl with the lice had her feelings hurt. There is no way to tell from the article and other available media commentary whether the boy who outed the girl with lice intended to hurt her feelings, which is relevant in our opinion. We think it is unlikely that the boy accused of bullying has been sufficiently wronged to warrant a lawsuit, but there may be details left out.
The schools are in a tough position when required to investigate and act on HIB incidents, and current protocols are far from perfect. It’s a work in process that hopefully will get better.
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