– The Division on Civil Rights announced
today it has issued a Finding of Probable
Cause against the Board of Education in
Old Bridge Township, Middlesex County, for
allegedly failing to take sufficient steps
to stop the harassment and bullying of a
student during his years attending a township
as sole Respondent in the Finding of Probable
Cause, the Old Bridge Board of Education
oversees a school district made up of approximately
9,600 students, 12 elementary schools, two
middle schools and one high school. According
to the Division, the district failed to
deal effectively with the harassment of
a Jonas Salk Middle School student –
identified only as H.D. because he is a
minor – that began in the fall of
2004 and continued through the end of the
school year in 2007.
harassing conduct included derogatory remarks
from other students about H.D.’s perceived
sexual orientation, as well as his Jewish
faith. On one occasion, the student had
papers stuffed down the front of his pants
by other students. On another occasion,
a middle school staff employee allegedly
asked him if he was looking for his purse
as the youth checked the lost-and-found.
The school district has denied that incident.
But the district’s own documentation
shows that, during one stretch between early
September 2006 and late January 2007, there
were at least 11 reported incidents of harassment
against H.D. involving 14 different students.
In two of the cases, no action was taken
because of a lack of information. In the
remaining cases, a total of 12 students
received discipline ranging from a verbal
warning to after-school detention to in-school
suspension. However, the bullying of H.D.
continued. The Finding of Probable Cause
cites Old Bridge for failing to take affirmative
steps to prevent the bullying of H.D., and
for dealing with it only via “after-the-fact”
discipline, without any prevention measures
or efforts at broader outreach to students.
appears this student went to school in an
extremely hostile atmosphere – a climate
in which he was subjected to a level of
bias-based harassment and torment that no
young person should have to endure,”
said Division on Civil Rights Director Chinh
Q. Le. “With the new school year about
to begin, this is the perfect time to remind
school districts they have a duty to create
and maintain a safe, nurturing and harassment-free
learning environment, and to respond effectively
when bullying rears its ugly head.”
entered Jonas Salk Middle School in September
2004, and the harassment began shortly thereafter.
According to a log kept by the youth’s
mother and provided to the Division, H.D.
was repeatedly targeted for such slurs as
“fag” and “fruit.”
He was also derided for eating “Jew
food.” According to the youth and
his mother, these taunts and slurs were
aimed at him in school, on the school bus,
and on the Internet.
an interview with a Division investigator,
a former principal at Jonas Salk Middle
School – the educator retired in June
2006 -- recalled most incidents of reported
harassment against H.D. listed in the log.
While the ex-principal apparently did suspend
two students involved in a locker room incident
in which paper was stuffed down H.D.’s
pants, he said he generally couldn’t
recall what disciplinary action he took
upon learning of other bullying episodes.
He said he rarely documented such discipline
unless it involved conduct serious enough
to warrant suspension.
The same former principal acknowledged telling
H.D. during one conversation that he’d
understand if H.D. elected to respond to
his tormentors physically. He also acknowledged
recommending that H.D. transfer out of Jonas
Salk Middle School and attend the township’s
other middle school as a solution.
matter how well intended, a suggestion that
the victim consider resorting to physical
aggression against his tormentors, or that
he transfer to another school, is neither
an appropriate nor a sufficient means for
the school district to deal with the unlawful,
harassing conduct of its students,”
Ultimately, the Finding of Probable Cause
notes, H.D. became reticent about even reporting
further incidents of harassment and bullying
at Jonas Salk Middle because doing so never
improved his situation. In fact, the Finding
of Probable Cause notes, the youth felt
he was “becoming known as a snitch,”
which threatened to make matters worse.
A Finding of Probable Cause does not resolve
a civil rights complaint. Rather, it means
the State has concluded its preliminary
investigation and determined there is sufficient
evidence to support a reasonable suspicion
New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination
(LAD) has been violated.
The LAD provides that each Respondent found
to have committed a violation is subject
to a penalty of up to $10,000. The LAD also
provides for other remedies, including compensatory
damages and injunctive relief, such as changes
in the employer's policies and management/staff
that the Division has issued a Finding of
Probable Cause, the Old Bridge Board of
Education case will be referred for a process
known as Conciliation. If Conciliation is
not successful, the matter will be referred
for a non-jury trial before an Administrative
Law Judge. Once the trial is completed,
the presiding Administrative Law Judge will
issue a written Initial Decision.
Le thanked Division Investigator Agnes Roncaglio,
Paterson Office Manager Carolyn Paul, Legal
Specialist Benn Meistrich, Deputy Attorney
General Marisa Slaten and Deputy Attorney
General Charles Cohen, Assistant Section
Chief, for their work on the Old Bridge
investigation and Finding of Probable Cause.