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Principal Dealing with Incident Not Covered by Anti-Bullying Laws

MHS Principal says student's anti-Semitic remark was "reprehensible" but the incident is not covered by the new laws.

The school year's just started and already Millburn High Principal Dr. William Miron has found limitations in the state's new anti-bullying law.

Miron has spent much of his time since Saturday handling a situation involving anti-Semitism that he hoped could be dealt with by the new state Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying Laws. But because the victim isn't in the school district, the issue becomes more complicated.

On Friday night, the father of a 12-year-old West Orange boy wrote to Miron and other MHS staff members, saying that earlier in the day, a young person wearing a MHS Seniors T-shirt made anti-Semitic comments to his son, who was wearing a yarmulke.

David Esrig said his son, wife and 9-year-old daughter visited the downtown Millburn Starbucks after school. The boy was targeted by the young man, who was with others including a young woman who also made anti-Semitic remarks to his son.

Esrig said his son told him that the young man raised his middle finger and shouted “F--- yarmulkes.” And the young woman said, “I hate people who wear yarmulkes.”

In an e-mail to Miron, Esrig described the young man in detail in hopes that the principal could find him and “help him understand how upsetting his behavior is to us.”

“Now, these adults or near adults are certainly within their constitutional rights to shout anti-Semitic slurs at my 12-year-old boy in downtown Millburn,” Esrig said in his message. “But, I also think that it is good and fair for the entire community to expose and denounce this behavior.”

Miron called the actions “reprehensible” and said that students don’t have the right to make such comments and act in such a repulsive manor.

“I’m embarrassed that it was one of our students,” Miron said in a Monday interview. “I think everyone in the state of New Jersey should be embarrassed by it.”

He also said that if it were not for the description of the young man wearing a MHS Seniors T-shirt, he would not have believed it could possibly be a Millburn student. However, he said, because of that, he sought more descriptive detail so that he could address the situation directly with the student and the others with him.

 “Our students occasionally make bad choices and poor decisions,” Miron wrote in response to Esrig, “but what you describe is vile and unacceptable.”

Miron told Patch he had also sought guidance from the police in tracking down the identity of the student – hoping to find whether any video surveillance tapes of the outside of Starbucks might exist.

By Monday morning, Miron said, school officials were “almost certain” of the identity of the student based on the detailed description provided by the victim, and were talking with him and those who matched the description of the others with him.

Miron said he had hoped that he could use the new Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying laws to deal with this incident, but the district’s attorney advised him that because the victim goes to school in another town, he is unable to use the new law.

Under the , the provisions do not just apply within school boundaries, but off school grounds — on buses, cyberspace and during extracurricular activities — if the incident carries over to the school. This case was not only off school grounds, but involved an out-of-district student and school officials don't think it would carry over to school.

But Miron was still taking the incident seriously.

“We don’t want the (MHS) student or anyone with him to think for a moment that that kind of viciousness will be tolerated,” Miron said. “...We can't use the law, but that doesn’t make it any less horrific. This is very egregious. We can admonish them, but unfortunately, there’s not a lot we can do legally.”

While the Esrig family’s intent was to make the students aware of the pain those kinds of comments create and make the community aware of what happened, they also had hoped the law would provide for some consequences, Esrig said.

Esrig said he was pleased with Miron’s response to the incident – of his concern and his willingness to make sure the students were located and dealt with.

“We realize this is not something you’d normally face on the streets of Millburn,” he said. “We were shocked by it, and want to expose this – to make sure people understand how incredibly hurtful behavior like this is.”

SHMill September 20, 2011 at 06:04 PM
Laura Griffin-"Miron said he had hoped that he could use the new Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying laws to deal with this incident, but the district’s attorney advised him that because the victim goes to school in another town, he is unable to use the new law." I believe that statement from the article does give the impression that Dr. Miron was trying to "bring charges." Although this was not an actual quote, it does appear that was the thought process. If it wasn't, if I was Dr. Miron, I would be furious for the misrepresentation.
Laura Griffin September 20, 2011 at 06:11 PM
SHMill, his position was not misrepresented. The anti-bullying laws provide other ways of dealing with situations than just police charges, including in-school punishment or suspension.
SHMill September 20, 2011 at 07:33 PM
Well, then the "other ways of dealing with situations" could have been mentioned in the article instead of making so many inferences to legal action.
Blanket Jackson September 20, 2011 at 08:56 PM
I think everyone is losing sight of the issue here by attacking Patch. Regardless of anyone's motivations for doing so, Patch is merely reporting an event that a citizen informed them of. Miron should not spend time on this. There may have been a question initially as to whether this falls under the anti bullying statute but clearly the anti-bullying statute does NOT apply. There is no need to prosecute anything as I doubt a criminal offense occurred based on the quotes from the article which I believe were provided by Mr. Esrig. While the behavior exhibited by the student is deplorable and morally reprehensible unfortunately there really isn't a criminal statute in NJ that would render such comments a violation of the law. Take the well publicized comments by Michael Richards (aka Seinfeld's Kramer) who infamously laid into some hecklers with racist remarks and threats or Mel Gibson's anti-semetic tirade. The words uttered by those two were much worse and no criminal act was deemed to occur. Let's view this incident for what it was- a stupid kid who made some stupid comments to an innocent child. The kid should be identified, his parents informed and leave it to them to deal with their son. I'm sure the public shame of what their son said will be enough motivation for them to deal with him effectively. After a stern talking to, I'd be sending my kid to the Esrig home to apologize in person to the entire family.
M OKeef September 20, 2011 at 10:06 PM
Its hard growing up in a fishbowl......
Cubby September 20, 2011 at 11:16 PM
All educators in NJ are trying to figure out the ins and outs of this new bullying law. The new law absolutely covers HIB that happens ON or OFF school grounds. It also includes behavior that happens when school is not in session. It covers a SINGLE incident or repeated incidents. All reported incidents of possible HIB MUST be investigated. If, after an investigation, it is determined that the behavior constitutes HIB, the school must intervene. Interventions may include punitive consequences such as detention, suspension or even expulsion. However, non-punitive interventions such as counseling might also be put in place. The law can be compared to the law that mandates that suspected abuse must be reported to DYFS. If the school suspects possible abuse, they MUST report it and DYFS then investigates. If the school files a report wih DYFS and abuse is not substantiated, the school has done nothing wrong. They have complied with the law.If abuse is suspected and the school does not report it to DYFS they are in violation of the law. Botom line: Dr. Miron did the right thing. He followed the law.
Adinah September 21, 2011 at 12:22 AM
My full support is behind the Esrig family and all people who use appropriate channels to report and bring consequences to hate speech. The parents proved to be good role models for their children when they stood up for them, the principal could have only become more enlightened regarding some of the students in his school and the perpetrator and his peers have likely learned a lesson they won't soon forget.
Damian September 21, 2011 at 12:36 AM
Both a young man and a young woman made comments towards the 12 year old child, no?
Brett Biebelberg September 21, 2011 at 12:53 AM
Based on the new state anti-bullying bill of rights law that has been referenced herein, an act or statement no longer needs to be repetitive to be deemed "bullying." The verbeage is much more inclusive and suggests what is categorized as bullying has more to do with the way actions are perceived by "the victim."
Brett Biebelberg September 21, 2011 at 01:06 AM
Reread the article. There are no references to legal action, other than the possibility of the Principal taking "action" under the auspices of the bullying "law."
Hedley September 21, 2011 at 01:18 AM
Adinah, no one has a problem with the parents standing up for their children by going to the high school principal, even though the high school really has nothing to do with this. Rather, the issue, for some, myself included, is going to the press - at minimum before even giving the principal an opportunity to take action. Involving the press so quickly disturbs me.
SHMill September 21, 2011 at 01:48 AM
Hedley, I agree. I also think a better job could have been done on the article to make it sound less about the new bullying law and more about the real issue. Of course, Patch will disagree, and will defend that it has covered the story in a balanced way, but I personally have found this article to be the final straw for me with Patch. The sensationalized reporting is making me go elsewhere. Too bad. Originally, it was a great way to get local news.
Rachel September 21, 2011 at 02:35 AM
I cannot think of a more appropriate role for the press than revealing injustice. This should be denounced publicly and loudly, not sotto voce. Didn't television news reports of Jim Crow attacks on protesters sway millions? Could the Freedom Riders have achieved anything by writing polite letters to the CEO of Greyhound -- no matter how sympathetic that executive may have been (after all, Greyhound only enforced segregation in the South where it was the law)? How on earth did MLK's letter from a Birmingham Jail get into the press so fast?
newleaf September 21, 2011 at 02:42 AM
Rachel--Freedom Riders? Give me a break...... we are talking about a teenager or two being rude hateful idiots.... They deserve to get their car and allowance taken away and possibly a suspension but in now way should this have been REPORTED by a newspaper. This has been bothering me all day..... as a citizen who cares about the town I live in, I am disgusted that someone can come in, accuse a kid of doing whatever, send an email to the principal and then take that response and leak it to a reporter. Good God, we have tossed common sense out the window.
MK September 21, 2011 at 02:46 AM
This article lost credibility the moment I heard how it came about..... 1. This is not news. 2. I think the facts are suspect. 3. I think the origin is equally suspect given this came from a leaked email that should have been and stayed private. The Patch may think it is reporting "news' but I think it has allowed itself to be used by someone with an ax to grind. Disgusted all the way around. Dislike.
Alia Ramer September 21, 2011 at 03:17 AM
Momma, I have been friends with the Esrigs for several years, and it's amazing but I've never seen this ax you speak of. Are you serious? Why are the facts suspect? Because you don't think that a Millburn senior is capable of ugliness? Thanks so much for confirming my decision to never live in Millburn.
jjr428 September 21, 2011 at 12:02 PM
Let's all just admit we no longer read the Patch for *news*. This site is now a cyber space water cooler. Several years ago I showed up at my grandchild's school in Short Hills for an event and a 5th grader was wearing a shirt that said "Santa is real" with the word Santa crossed out and the designer label "Juicy" overwriting it (of course implying Santa was not real). I know for a fact this girl wore the shirt the entire day. Is this the kind of *news* the Patch wants to report now???
Laura Griffin September 21, 2011 at 12:47 PM
Thanks for all the comments. I would like to point out that Patch brings you all kinds of news -- some you might need to know, like our 24/7 coverage of Hurricane Irene and the recovery effort, to late-night school board and township committee meetings to issues like charter schools to crime and police news to sports coverage. We also bring you features about charity events, the arts and trends. A look through our site will show you all that and more.
MK September 21, 2011 at 12:54 PM
Alia: Thanks for the snippy swipe at Millburn and for making so many assumptions on what I thought. Let me clarify. I think the facts are suspect because they do not appear to be corroborated. Yes, it is likely this incident happened but I have to wonder about an individual who would involve the press to settle a score....with a teenager. This has nothing to do with Millburn. Millburn citizens are capable of as many things as the ones from West Orange...including making stuff up, lawsuit baiting etc etc. If that had happened to me, I would have probably been upset but let it go. That's me. However, I would have stood by and even applauded the father for contacting the principal. I would have said "good for you for standing up for your family" and left it at that. The minute this hit the press and I heard WHY it hit the press, I personally believe the family lost credibility. This new law is going to present all kinds of lawsuit opportunities because schools are exposed the minute they "fail to respond." It is not outside of the scope of possibility that your friend there could be the kind of person who is trying to get evidence and make noise as to take it to court. I hope that is not the case, and I am going to go on good faith and assume that's not the case.
Alia Ramer September 21, 2011 at 04:10 PM
Momma, I wholeheartedly apologize for being snippy. My husband was really bothered that I posted that, as we live nearby and have many friends in Millburn/Short Hills. It was an inappropriate response to having to defend my friends' actions over and over. Let me be clear once again because I'm not coming back to this conversation: The Esrigs' ethics are beyond reproach. If they say it happened, it happened. It is ABSOLUTELY outside the scope of possibility that they could be the kind of people who are trying to get evidence and make noise as to take it to court.
KLF September 21, 2011 at 04:38 PM
I just reread the article, and in my professional judgment (I am a journalist), there is nothing wrong with it. The lead of the article is about a new-found limitation in the state's new anti-bullying law. The lead is NOT that this incident happened. I think that Laura made an excellent decision to lead with that, and not with the incident itself. Moreover, she does NOT mention the name of the student. The article focuses on the fact that Dr. Miron received this letter and that he was following up on it as the district tries to navigate the new law. But lo and behold, this type of incident is not governed by the law. This is what the piece is about. She does not need corroboration to cover it from this angle. The incident is being reported as it was reported by David Esrig. Indeed, it says, "David Esrig said he son, wife, ..." That's like a NYT piece saying, "Police said that a white male, about six feet tall and wearing a black tee shirt, approached the bank teller and showed his gun." That sentence is perfectly fine. IF she had led with this -- "A Millburn high school senior lobbed anti-semitic remarks and gestures at a 12-year-old boy while the two of them were next to each other in line at Starbucks Friday evening" -- THEN she would need corroboration. Laura, you did nothing wrong journalistically.
KLF September 21, 2011 at 04:42 PM
And let me add one more point: This new anti-bullying law is top news in NJ, and it was journalistically responsible for Laura to report on what was possibly the first potential incident to be looked at through that lens.
Laura Griffin September 21, 2011 at 04:44 PM
Thank you, KLF.
KLF September 21, 2011 at 04:53 PM
You are welcome. There's nothing wrong with the article.
Susan1 September 21, 2011 at 05:26 PM
+ 1
rita cohen September 22, 2011 at 03:11 PM
I cant believe this kind of behavior still exists. When I went to school in upstate NY, I was one of the few Jewish students and the school officials and teachers just looked the other way. Supposedly, people have "moved on " and trtied to be tolerant i f not supportive. This younster and his family should be reprimanded publicly and know how it feels to be singled out without a degree of respect. Rita
rita cohen September 22, 2011 at 03:14 PM
PS. Anti semitism is a closeted behavior like many others. Often it is the only way in which another person can feel superior. Such behavior must have consequences. Emotional damage is often just as hurtful and physical abuse. Rita
rita cohen September 22, 2011 at 03:18 PM
"Free "speech is never free. Someone has to pay. People from wherever, not just Millburn, had made impulsive choices just for jokes. What is different about this situation is that Millburn is supposedly the best place to live and send your kids to school. I dont live in Millburn but i do know that just because someone lives in a community the values he/she has been raised in at home equal wise conduct.
rita cohen September 22, 2011 at 03:20 PM
That is passing the buck. I am embarrased that my grandchildren live in a communioty where anti-semitism or racism of any kind is tolerated.
rita cohen September 22, 2011 at 03:27 PM
Right on. Where does "innocent" behavior convert to criminal? We have only to look to Nazi Germany to see what this means.

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