NJ AG: Local School Board Allowed Gay Student Bullying for Years

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    While standardized test scores have improved on the margins, California public school students continue to underperform.

    For six years of middle and senior high school in the leafy Bergen County suburb of Emerson, 'J.C.' was allegedly routinely called "faggot," "gay" and "homo."

    He complained that another student punched him in the stomach, then threatened to slit his throat "if he ever talked about him behind his back again" after 'J.C.' complained to his mother. That was in middle school.

    Once 'J.C.' got to Emerson High School, in May of 2006, another student, "M.F." "allegedly menaced J.C. by telling him he intended to bring a gun to school.

    All of this and more is contained in a Finding of Probable Cause announced by New Jersey Attorney General Paula Dow against the Emerson School Board.

    The action, which carries the threat of a $10,000 fine against the Board, the potential for compensatory damages, injunctive relief and changes in policies and management/staff training, is based on a finding that there was insufficient effort "to take sufficient steps to stop the harassment and bullying of a male student that went on for six years (J.C. appears to have graduated or left the school in 2007)."

    The attorney for the Board, Joanne Butler, told NBCNewYork that the school system "categorically denies any bullying took place and that all complaints were handled appropriately."

    Another example cited in the finding: "students on one occasion created a page on a social networking Web site that described J.C.'s sexual orientation as "unknown," and also depicted him as female."

    And it goes on, "Students also are alleged to have circulated derogatory drawings of J.C., including at least one that depicted him performing a sex act on another male." 

     Although Emerson officials claimed in their defense to the state investigation that they were aware of the harassment and took actions to counter it, the State clearly disagreed by taking this action.

    "Despite the ostensible existence of a 'zero tolerance' policy regarding such conduct, his fellow students routinely subjected him to the kind of torment no one should have to endure," said Attorney General Dow in a news release.

    The Finding cites at least 17 complaints by J.C.'s parents to school officials, yet no parents of any of the allegedly offending students were contacted. In addition, "meaningful discipline was rarely imposed."

    Among school officials singled out was former football coach and now Dean of Students Robert Carcich, who told investigators that he had handled many such complains, but that "he spokes to witnesses who failed to corroborate J.C.'s allegations. However, Carcich was unable to provide documentation to support his account."

    In detailing the gun threat, the AG's office noted that Emerson police went to M.F.'s home to investigate "and a subsequent search of M.F.'s home resulted in the seizure of guns and knives belonging to both M.F. and his father."

    M.F. was placed in a psychiatric facility for evaluation, but later released and allowed to return to school.

    J.C.'s father was told M.F. would not be allowed near his son, but then the two were scheduled to be in three classes during that school year.

    Superintendent Vincent Taffaro allegedly advised J.C.'s father he could seek a restraining order if he felt it was necessary.

    Eventually, J.C. turned to home schooling after suffering from stress, went back to school after being assigned an aide to help avoid bullying situations, and according to the Finding, was still subjected to another incident by three other students within a month.

    That was it, and he finished the year with home schooling.

    The AG's office explained that a Finding of Probable Cause is only a conclusion from a preliminary investigation under New Jersey's Law Against Discrimination.

    From this point, it will go to a process called Conciliation. If that is unsuccessful, it would go to an Administrative Law Judge for a non-jury trial.

    Follow Brian Thompson on Twitter @brian4NY