Fair Lawn teen’s anti-Israel tweet not ‘bullying,’ school says
A seemingly anti-Israel tweet by a Fair Lawn High School student is not being considered bullying by school officials.
Both the tweet and the school's initial reaction to it caused an uproar online and in the community, with reaction split between preserving free speech and ensuring student safety.
The ACLU of New Jersey, which represented 16-year-old Bethany Koval, said on Tuesday that a letter from the school to Koval's family that said an investigation found the incident to be “peer conflict” but did not meet the standard for harassment, intimidation or bullying under state law.
Koval, an Israeli Jew from Fair Lawn in December tweeted, "i'm sooooo glad that pro-Israel girl from my school unfollowed me! I'm so FREE now like. (expletive) Israel."
She was called into the principal’s office and accused of bullying and making politically inflammatory comments. Koval live-tweeted the meeting and secretly recorded it.
After the school's investigation concluded, Koval yesterday tweeted, "Justice perseveres, friends!"
“I am grateful for this ruling that posting my political opinions online was not considered bullying and for the fact that my speech didn’t deserve official censorship," Koval said in a statement provided by the ACLU.
"The manner in which the bullying law was used in my case was not in the spirit of free speech. It’s unfortunate that such a noble law in principle was used to justify something as troubling as chilling students’ speech."
The ACLU said it is concerned about "an overly broad application" of New Jersey's anti-bullying law, which was enacted in 2010. The law requires school officials to investigate instances of alleged bullying.
“Bethany’s case shows how the anti-bullying law can be misused to stifle free expression, far from its intent to meaningfully address harassing behavior,” said Alexander Shalom, the ACLU-NJ senior staff attorney.
Koval's mother Debra said through the ACLU that she was grateful to school principal James Macella for his "understand and direction.
“I am extremely grateful as well to advocate David Stein for his steadfast support for Bethany’s free speech even while holding different views from hers, and to the ACLU-NJ for its help through this ordeal" Debra said.