New Jersey education officials said the school was allowed to give detention to the sixth-grader after the case climbed up the legal ladder.
The state Commissioner of Education’s office ruled that the Montgomery school district can give detention to the student who told another sixth-grader that “vegetarians are idiots”, the Asbury Park Press reported.
The case rose to the commissioner’s office because the student’s parent contested the district’s finding that the remarks about vegetarianism constituted bullying, a finding that was later backed by a state administrative law judge.
The case began on October 30, 2014, when the two 11-year-old sixth-graders were having lunch in the cafeteria of Montgomery’s Lower Middle School. One of the students, identified in court papers as C C, made the comments to another student, K S, about his decision not to eat meat.
The investigation by the school’s anti-bullying specialist, guidance counsellor Lesley Haas, found that C C told K S that “it’s not good to not eat meat” and that “he should eat meat because he’d be smarter and have bigger brains”, according to court papers.
C C also admitted that he told K S that “vegetarians are idiots”. Haas concluded that C C’s comments met the legal definition of harassment, intimidation and bullying under state law because they targeted a student’s “distinguishing characteristic” and “substantially interfered with the rights of K S and had the effect of insulting or demeaning him”.
Superintendent of Schools Stephanie Gartenberg agreed with Haas’ conclusion. C C was then given five lunch-time detentions where he was given the opportunity to speak with staffers about his remarks.
No other disciplinary actions were imposed. C C’s parent then requested a hearing before the school board, an option under state law. During the hearing in February, 2015, the attorney was permitted to question Haas.
Following the hearing, the school board agreed with 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 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.