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.”