Sixth Grader In New Jersey Subject To Anti-Bullying Investigation After Criticizing Vegetarianism Of Fellow Student

220px-ClassroomWe have been discussing the increasingly draconian rules in our schools under zero tolerance policies. Incidents that were once handled by a stern conversation or the calling in of parents are now more likely to result in a formal disciplining or suspension or even criminal charges of a student. A case in point is out of New Jersey where a sixth grade has been found guilty of bullying and given punishment for poking fun at a vegetarian classmate.

The sixth grade said “Vegetarians are idiots and “It’s not good not to eat meat.” The 11-year-old added that his schoolmate “should eat meat because he’d be smarter and have bigger brains.” The other child reported the statements from teachers at Lower Middle School in Montgomery Township which called in the team of ten anti-bullying specialists. They bullying specialist then concluded that the anti-vegetarian comments “were reasonably perceived as being motivated by a distinguishing characteristic between the two boys, namely vegetarianism, which substantially interfered with the rights of K.S. and had the effect of insulting or demeaning him.”

The discipline was relatively minor with five lunch time detentions. However, it worries me that we are making our children hyper-sensitive rather than dealing with opposing, even insulting, views. These are kids expressing adolescent views. Is it really something for a team of “bullying experts” to mete out formal punishment?

We have previously followed the suspensions and discipline of students under zero tolerance policies that are used by teachers to justify zero judgment or responsibility. I have long criticized zero tolerance policies that have led to suspensions and arrests of children (here, here and here and here and here). Here is a prior column on the subject (and here). Children have been suspended or expelled for drawing stick figures or wearing military hats or bringing Legos shaped like guns or pretend bow and arrows or even having Danish in the shape of a gun. Even teeshirts with patriotic or constitutional themes involving guns have been the basis for discipline. Despite the public outcry over the completely irrational and abusive application of zero tolerance rules, administrators and teachers continue to apply them blindly.

I am a great supporter of the effort against bullying and I have spoken on that subject in prior speeches. However, it seems like anti-bullying rules may be going the way of zero tolerance rules on guns where any criticism or taunting now triggers teams of experts on anti-bullying sanctions. It seems like this is a simple matter of raising the issue with the parents to say that the boy’s feelings were hurt or speaking with the offending student to help him understand how such comments can make another student feel. Instead, an investigation is launched and formal findings and sanctions issues.

What do you think?

24 thoughts on “Sixth Grader In New Jersey Subject To Anti-Bullying Investigation After Criticizing Vegetarianism Of Fellow Student”

  1. So the moral of this story: anti-bullying is in fact, a form of bullying. What part of that DON’T we understand? And, “bullying experts”?! Yea, they are experts…AT BULLYING LITTLE CHILDREN. Instead of finding creative ways to stop bullying(rather stop demonizing teenage taunts, criticisms) & pathologising normal adolescent behaviors in a school setting, we’ve managed to use tax dollars to SUBSIDIZE BULLYING BY SCHOOL ADMINISTRATORS. What a joke.

  2. Perhaps these teachers would welcome an adult analogue of the situation they create for these children–a patrol car constantly following them and a traffic officer issuing them a ticket each time they exceed the speed limit by one mile per hour. Then, after receiving five citations they have their license suspended and they are forced to walk to work.

  3. The rush to the courtroom is based on (1) our current police state, and (2) the unwillingness of many parents to confront the issues at hand, or to admit that their child has behaved badly.

  4. This is ridiculous.

    Like TIN said, this should have been a teachable moment. Zero tolerance was a program designed to kill teachable moments. Therefore, even common sense approaches to our differing sensibilities when we have a conflict are not known or tried, but instead we leap to each others throats because the threshold has been passed, and once that happens there is zero tolerance.

    FWIW WHEN I am a contractor in schools here in NJ I still bear my knife in my side pocket, leatherman on my belt, flashlight, and of course my evil evil thoughts. This one time I brought a whole backpack full of tools to 3rd grade gym to fix a stereo! I only needed the soldering iron.

    I bartered that job and got paid in foot stomping ball launcher toy. Good times.

  5. It is not bizarre to expect uniformity in the application of bullying rules. A vegetarian in a middle school in Jersey is more of an insular minority than a Jewish student in Naples, Florida. Yet, in the former case we see implicit mockery,and in the latter case we see indignant righteousness. Anyone laughing this case off should read about the decades of lasting trauma effects on both bullied and bullying students (these are often not mutually exclusive categories). When this behavior is carried into the university or workplace case studies prove a link to violence and mass shootings. Americans feel that rudeness is a birth right, and this may be understandable given the cultural deficits that span the full range socioeconomic and educational levels here. However, given the direct link to violence of toxic bullying, and more organized mobbing behavior, I believe that a dose of political correctness is in order in these venues. People can not just avoid these situations in the work and school environment, it’s not as simple as changing the TV tuner.

  6. I need a therapist and a safe zone. Just curious professor Turley, have you ever been charged with micro aggressions in court room litigation?

  7. “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” – Ghandi

    Allowing bullies to condemn wisdom is counterproductive to the purpose of school. A good response would have been to make school lunches vegetarian, to treat meat in school similarly to the way guns are treated in school.

  8. “team of ten anti-bullying specialists”??? REALLY? They needed a team of ten (one has to wonder how one becomes a anti-bullying specialist) to handle the situation. What a waste of time, money and energy. These kids will never be able to handle the real world.

  9. So why didn’t the vegetarian kid just say, “Yeah, well, it’s a free country,” or, “To each his own.” In my day, being a ninny and running to the teacher to tattle would have gotten him “pantsed” after school. Damn, I’m starting to feel old!

  10. I think the teachers are guilty of bullying the child they disciplined. Their punishment clearly had “the effect of insulting or demeaning him.”

    But, seriously, punishment is not the way to teach social sensitivity and empathy.

  11. This all used to be part of growing up. The last thing you wanted was to get you parents involved.

  12. Squeeky, well said Double Damn Liberals!

    Good God, what are we doing raising a bunch of Mary’s. OK we don’t want our kids to be bullied in school or out of school but this PC thing is getting a bit ridiculous. When these kids grow up how will they handle the real issues of life?

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