After a New Jersey sixth-grader criticized a classmate's vegetarianism last year — noting, among other comments, that “vegetarians are idiots" — the school district is allowed to punish the student for bullying, the Asbury Park Press reported.
The state Commissioner of Education’s office ruled that the Montgomery School District can level detention against the offending student, the Press said.
The case got to the state level after the offending student's parent contested the school district’s finding that the student's critiques of vegetarianism fit the definition of bullying — and a state administrative law judge backed the district's finding, the paper said.
TheBlaze reported on the controversy in March regarding the pair of sixth-graders who were having lunch when a student identified as C.C. in court papers made remarks to K.S., a vegetarian, that “it’s not good to not eat meat,” that “he should eat meat because he’d be smarter and have bigger brains” and that "vegetarians are idiots."
C.C.’s punishment was “five (5) lunch-time detentions” during which he had the “opportunity to speak with staff about his actions, with an intention of preventing future instances of such conduct,” the Washington Post reported.
But in addition, the Montgomery Township school board claimed that C.C. committed “harassment, intimidation, or bullying” of a classmate, the Post reported, adding that C.C. — according to an anti-bullying specialist — characterized K.S.’s response to his comments as amusing.
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C.C.’s parent then requested a hearing before the school board, an option under state law.
The board hearing took place on Feb. 10, 2015, when [anti-bullying specialist, guidance counselor Lesley] Haas, the school’s vice principal, C.C.’s parent and the parent’s attorney were present. The attorney was permitted to question Haas.
Following the hearing, the school board agreed with [Superintendent of Schools Stephanie] Gartenberg’s decision and again the parents were notified of the outcome.
Four months later, C.C.’s parent filed an appeal with the state Commissioner of Education, asking that the school board’s finding be overturned. The appeal, filed by attorney Adam Wilson, was based on whether being a vegetarian is considered a “distinguishing characteristic” under state law.
The case then went before Administrative Law Judge John S. Kennedy, who ruled in March that K.S.’s vegetarianism was a “distinguishing characteristic” based on previous bullying cases and that C.C.’s comments were insults.
Kennedy cited a Jefferson Township case in which remarks that a student “sucks at basketball” were found to be unacceptable under state law because they were perceived as being motivated by the distinguishing characteristics of height, intelligence and athletic ability.
Kennedy also cited a case in Ridgewood in which a student calling another student a “horse” and “fat-ass” constituted bullying.
Wilson said that he does not plan to appeal the decision by the Office of the Commissioner.
The Montgomery School District expended $7,763 in legal fees on the case.