Richard G. Bozza, the executive director of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, told the New York Times, "I think this has gone well overboard."
The law is said to be the strongest in the nation and was inspired by the suicide of a Rutgers student last September.
In that case, Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old freshman, took his life by jumping off the George Washington Bridge. His roommate, Dharun Ravi, stands charged with invasion of privacy and bias intimidation. He faces up to 10 years in jail if convicted.
The widely circulated version of the story was that Ravi and a female student, with malice and on more than one occasion, used a webcam to spy on Clementi while he was in an intimate encounter with another man. Clementi was so embarrassed upon learning of this privacy violation that he took his own life. The prosecution narrative asserts that Ravi sought to expose Clementi's sexual orientation to humiliate and intimidate him.
But thus far, there has been no adjudication of the facts. The case goes back to court Sept. 9. As George Anastasia has reported in The Inquirer, hundreds of pages of documents filed in court by the defense last month, including many from the world of social media, suggest a more complicated picture. None of this will change the tragic outcome - the passing of a promising young violinist - but if the underlying case was not what we were led to believe, then maybe there is similar reason to rethink the reaction that has led to the anti-bullying statute in New Jersey.
The defense documents suggest: that there was no sexual encounter, nor any recording of a sexual encounter; that Clementi may have been depressed before he arrived at Rutgers, in part because of his own mother's reaction to his sexual identity; and that Ravi had said in one online exchange that he really didn't care about Clementi's orientation ("I'm not really angry or sad . . .").
For his part, according to the defense, Clementi apparently commented on Ravi's ethnicity, speculating that his parents owned a Dunkin' Donuts. Also, the defense maintains that at the time Clementi was taking his life, Ravi was apologizing for his own behavior ("I'm sorry if you heard something distorted and disturbing, but I assure you all my actions were good-natured").
Bullying should be confronted at every opportunity. Bias based on sexuality is similarly abhorrent and needs to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. But what went on in Davidson Hall at Rutgers last fall may have been neither of those. Instead it may have been a case of students behaving badly, and a gross invasion of privacy motivated by a prurient interest in sex - regardless of whether it involved men with men or men with women.
If the defense argument in the case turns out to be true, there's a lesson for educators and lawmakers about finding out the facts before reacting - or overreacting - to reports of bullying.
Contact Michael Smerconish via www.smerconish.com. Read his columns at www.philly.com/smerconish.