N.J. Civil Rights Division says Bergen County school district failed to stop bullying of a student

Associated Press

Wednesday November 24, 2010

There's probable cause that a school board failed to stop the bullying of a student over his perceived sexual orientation, the state's Civil Rights Division said today, one day after New Jersey lawmakers passed what advocates said was the nation's toughest anti-bullying bill.

The Emerson Board of Education didn't effectively deal with continued verbal, physical and online harassment of the student between 2002 and 2007, the division found. Allegations included assaults, threats of violence, name-calling and derogatory remarks.

"Our investigation suggests that this young man was the target of consistent harassment for a period of years and that, despite the existence of a written 'zero tolerance' policy regarding such conduct, his fellow students routinely subjected him to the kind of torment no one should have to endure," Attorney General Paula Dow said.

The school district has denied the student was a victim of discrimination and said any reports of harassment or bullying were dealt with accordingly.

State officials, however, found the boy's parents reported at least 17 instances of harassment, but the accused students' parents were not contacted. It also appears from school records that "meaningful discipline was rarely imposed," the state said.

Today's finding means the state has finished its preliminary investigation and concluded there was reasonable suspicion that the state's anti-discrimination law was violated. The state and school board will first see whether they can settle the issue before the case would go before a hearing officer for a ruling.

The anti-bullying law that was passed Monday and sent to Gov. Chris Christie would require schools to develop anti-harassment programs and review how bullying is handled.

The bill gained attention after the suicide of Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi in September. He killed himself after his roommate allegedly spied on his liaison with a man on a webcam.

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