EAST BRUNSWICK — A high school student who says he was only joking when he discussed shooting up his school got a visit at home from police and spent a Saturday morning in detention.

But his mother says the teen shouldn’t have been punished at all.

The mother of the then-15-year-old sophomore filed the appeal in January when the boy was punished after admitting to police that he jokingly made comments at lunch about using an AR-15 to shoot up his school and kill police.

The teen had been speaking with two other boys at a cafeteria table last November. The comments were overheard by a student who notified a guidance counselor. School officials then notified the police officer stationed on campus.

Township police visited the boy’s home that night and searched it for weapons, finding none.

School officials noted that they would have been well within their rights to suspend the teen for a day but chose to give him weekend detention instead based on his clean record. In his permanent file, school officials noted that he was disciplined for “inappropriate language,” not for making threats.

The teen was quoted as saying:

“If I came into the school and shot it up how [many] people do you think I could kill?”

“I’ll shoot the cops.”

“I’ve made a list before”

“I would do it with an AR-15.”

But his mother argued that the school assistant principal was wrong for interrogating the student and that they shouldn’t have called police before further investigating the matter themselves. The mother also claimed that the student who reported the comments had a longstanding feud with her son.

An administrative law judge who heard the mother’s appeal said there was no evidence to back up her claims.

In her August decision, Administrative Law Judge Tricia M. Caliguire noted that the teen’s comments “had the potential to impede the orderly operation” of the school or “disrupt the learning climate.”

She said that school officials should be “credited for encouraging action when potential problems are identified — even when the alleged threat turns out to be baseless.”

“No code of conduct or policy can ever be as good at identifying and defusing potential threats to school safety as the real-time intelligence generated by students and teachers,” Caliguire wrote, adding that to second-guess the punishment meted out by school officials “would undermine the authority given to the administration" by state law.

Her decision was upheld last month by the state commissioner. The state did not release the identity of the student or his parents.

Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email sergio.bichao@townsquaremedia.com.

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