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Bully free zone. Photo: Creative Commons/Eddie~S Bully free zone. Photo: Creative Commons/Eddie~S  

Under strict bullying law, kid who called classmate ‘horse’ and ‘fat ass’ goes to court

After enacting the strictest anti-bullying law in the country, the state of New Jersey must now hold trials for kids who call each other names on the playground.

An eighth-grader in the village of Ridgewood who allegedly called a girl “horse,” “fat,” and “fat ass” is just one of a dozen cases that suggest the 2011 law went too far in criminalizing bullying, according to The Star-Ledger.

The boy denied calling his classmate any name other than “horse.”

“I never made any remarks other than horse,” he said in his testimony. “I did not have any intent.”

The boy’s family insisted on having the case brought to trial. In effect, they are appealing the decision to add a bullying charge to his permanent record, which they worry could harm his college chances later in life.

“I don’t feel what my son said to this young woman constitutes violation of the harassment, intimidation and bullying law,” said the boy’s father. “It’s possible that this could track my son through college graduation.”

At least 15 other families have gone to trial to dispute charges leveled under the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights. Many other students are in the process of initiating appeals.

It’s an unintended result of the law, which took effect in 2011. Designed to combat the kind of ritualistic and pervasive abuse that led to the suicide of bullied Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi, the law raises questions about the line between offensive speech and harassment.

Some of the other pending cases underscore this difficulty. One couple insists their daughter’s math teacher bullied her by calling attention to her inappropriately short skirt. A male student faces a bullying charge for retweeting a list of female classmates’ names with the word “grenade” written next to them. In the context of the tweet, the word “grenade” means marking the girls as “the ugly girl always found with a group of hotties,” according to urbandictionary.com.

Several lawmakers and education administrators discussed the law’s scope and ramifications at a recent conference in Newark.

“Where do you go from a speech issue to where you crossed the line?” asked New Jersey Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa at the conference, according to to NJ Spotlight. “Where is the line to where government has a role when certain kinds of behaviors should be penalized?”

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