N.J.’s Convoluted View on Bullying Is and What a Nerf Gun Has to do With It

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Apparently what constitutes bullying and harassment is not as cut and dry as one would think. At least not in New Jersey, where everything is complicated and convoluted. A recent case out of the Garden State has me raising my eyebrows at how things get interpreted. The situation involved a student who was picked on for bringing a toy Nerf gun to school, and subsequent bullying – er, non-bullying that ensued in the aftermath.

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The New Jersey Department of Education has ruled that it's not an act of bullying to call a Bridgewater-Raritan Middle School student who brought a Nerf gun to class a "school shooter."

Acting Commissioner of Education Kevin Dehmer has agreed with an administrative law judge's ruling that the Bridgewater-Raritan school district's decision to address the name-calling as a Code of Student Conduct violation, not as an act of bullying, was correct.

The mother of the child who was called a "school shooter" had appealed the district's decision not to investigate the name-calling as a bullying incident.

The case began in the 2021-22 school year, when the sixth grader brought a Nerf gun to school, according to court papers, The student received a 45-day suspension for violating the district's Code of Student Conduct.

New Jersey is a pit of filthy hoplophobic bigots. The fact that bringing a toy Nerf gun resulted in a 45-day suspension is pitiful. Some wanker somewhere justified their existence by determining that such an offense warranted such a response.

The upper echelon of New Jersey’s educational industry is filled with progressive anti-liberty cretins. This is not the first time that the New Jersey educational industry is falling subject to my criticism. In 2021, the New Jersey teacher’s union inappropriately weighed in on the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict. Leadership from the same union were sighted weeks later being hypocrites. They had their own overreaching notion of “safety,” when Rittenhouse came up, and then got caught not wearing masks while at a public event during the pandemic that shall not be named.

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The matter of the kid who was suspended for having a toy went from bad to worse.

When he returned in the 2022-23 school year as a seventh grader, other students began calling him a "school shooter" six different times, encouraged him to hurt himself and threatened to beat him up, according to court papers.

Court papers say the others also called him "a loser" and “a piece of garbage.”

The mother reported the incidents to the school administration who determined that students who had made those statements had violated the Code of Student Conduct and were subsequently disciplined.

The school district told the mother that the incidents did not meet the state's criteria for bullying because his act of bringing a Nerf gun to school was not a "distinguishing characteristic" as required by state law.

Administrative Law Judge Kim Belin agreed with the district's determination that the name-calling was not based on the student's race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or mental, physical or sensory disability, all of which are considered a "distinguishing characteristic" under state law.

What does the state law say exactly?

18A:37-14 Definitions relative to adoption of harassment and bullying prevention policies

   2.   As used in this act:

   "Electronic communication" means a communication transmitted by means of an electronic device, including, but not limited to, a telephone, cellular phone, computer, or pager;

   "Harassment, intimidation or bullying" means any gesture, any written, verbal or physical act, or any electronic communication, whether it be a single incident or a series of incidents, that is reasonably perceived as being motivated either by any actual or perceived characteristic, such as race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, or a mental, physical or sensory disability, or by any other distinguishing characteristic, that takes place on school property, at any school-sponsored function, on a school bus, or off school grounds as provided for in section 16 of P.L.2010, c.122 (C.18A:37-15.3), that substantially disrupts or interferes with the orderly operation of the school or the rights of other students and that:

    a.   a reasonable person should know, under the circumstances, will have the effect of physically or emotionally harming a student or damaging the student's property, or placing a student in reasonable fear of physical or emotional harm to his person or damage to his property;

    b.   has the effect of insulting or demeaning any student or group of students; or

    c.   creates a hostile educational environment for the student by interfering with a student's education or by severely or pervasively causing physical or emotional harm to the student.

    L.2002, c.83, s.2; amended 2007, c.129, s.1; 2010, c.122, s.11.

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The administrative judge, Kim C. Belin, needs to give this section another close read. I did. A couple times. And what’s relevant here is that – like most things – you’re going to see and find what you want to.

 "Harassment, intimidation or bullying" means any gesture, any written, verbal or physical act, or any electronic communication, whether it be a single incident or a series of incidents, that is reasonably perceived as being motivated either by any actual or perceived characteristic, such as race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, or a mental, physical or sensory disability, or by any other distinguishing characteristic,

The words “any actual or perceived characteristic” should be jumping off the page. What’s this? A subjective standard. What if it’s a perceived characteristic on part of the person who’s the victim? The language of the law does not stipulate whose perception takes preeminence. Bullying is one of those things that we’ll know when we see it, isn’t it?

Further, what are the examples of characteristics? The law catalogs some objective standards. Race. It’s bullying if someone is being picked on for their race. But what other clues did Belin miss? “Such as.” Which means, these are examples. I’ll say, “just examples.”  With a final, “any other distinguishing characteristic,” punctuating that list.

Administrators and in this case executive branch judges, can pretty much mold the narrative however they want to. In this case, it was not bullying this kid when “other students began calling him a ‘school shooter’ six different times, encouraged him to hurt himself and threatened to beat him up.”

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How Belin can say that the individual in question does not have any “distinguishing characteristic” is beyond comprehension. I could come up with half a dozen, without even being creative. But simple enough to define, the kid’s distinguishing characteristic is/was the fact they have been separated from their peers via former disciplinary action – unjust at that.

This is the same exact kind of treatment former felons might be subjected to. Except in the case of felons, there are protections in state law for them.

I’m going to tell you why this is even more hogwash. Who is Kim C. Belin? According to her linkedin profile, she used to be an attorney at the Florio Perrucci Steinhardt Cappelli & Tipton law firm.

I remember being a kid and seeing the “Florio free in 93’” bumper stickers all over the state. And that was for good reason. Because at that time, Governor Jim Florio was awful. 

Not only was he an awful governor, but up until fellow Democratic Governor Phil Murphy, he was the mack daddy, OG, anti-gun pinko of the Garden State. Florio signed into law New Jersey’s so-called “assault weapons” ban.

Could it be that Belin, who worked at Florio’s firm, is also an anti-gun pinko commie? Probable. I’ll go as far to say that Belin is probably incredibly biased and affirmed the administrators' decisions because a toy gun was involved. That’s what I’m going to say. Due to having such a bias, Belin should have recused herself from the case.

As for what on Earth bullying is, and call me old fashioned if you must, the continual picking on anyone for any reason would constitute bullying. Not everything has to come down to the categories our public masters like to squish us into. The Merriam Webster definition say’s that bullying is “to treat (someone) in a cruel, insulting, threatening, or aggressive fashion.”

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For the kid and their family, I hope they take this “loss” as the sign they needed to slap the administration and the state with a lawsuit. Clearly the kid was targeted and the school did nothing to stop the harassment from occurring. They did nothing because it involved a Nerf gun. It looks like the family of the kid involved was just trying to ensure that the kids that were “Code of Student Conduct” violating be held to a proper standard of disciplinary action.

That’s New Jersey for you. Hopefully we’ll hear more about this situation in the future.

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