New Jersey high schooler accused of violating bullying laws for making anti-Israel tweets
A social media storm erupted after administrators at a New Jersey high school accused a student of bullying because of anti-Israel comments that she posted on Twitter. They say that the tweets may have violated the state’s broad anti-bullying laws.
Bethany Koval, a 16-year-old Israeli Jew, said on Wednesday that she was called to the principal’s office at Fair Lawn High School and reprimanded for making tweets criticizing Israel and mentioning that a pro-Israel classmate had unfollowed her on Twitter.
Administrators warned her that she could face legal consequences for her actions, since New Jersey has some of the strictest anti-bullying legislation in the country. Under the New Jersey Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act, which only came into force in 2011, she could be suspended or expelled.
Koval is a prolific Twitter user. She had made over 21,000 tweets and has almost 7,000 followers, many of whom she gained in the last few days. The fiasco that she is the center of has since become a social media sensation.
The outspoken high schooler has been met with both support and opposition online.
@bendykoval They're taking advantage of their authority, I just hope that you'll be safe and stay as steadfast as you are! Please be safe— ˗ˏˋ maki/olivia ˎˊ˗ (@ckinkyasian) January 6, 2016
@bendykoval what the hellllll. are teenagers unable to express their opinions now ?— ㅤ (@isabellemolinas) January 6, 2016
.@bendykoval u publicly support TERRORISTS who target for murder innocent people - including your family. So don't lecture anyone on hate— Real Aussie Dave (@Israellycool) January 7, 2016
When Koval was called down to the principal’s office, she began documenting the situation on Twitter.
"I'm about to be exposed for being anti-Israel. Pray for me,” she tweeted.
A few minutes later, she tweeted that the administrator threatened to “file a bullying case” against her.
“It's against state law to express unpopular political views on the Internet, now.”
Threatened to file a bullying case against me. It's against state law to express unpopular political views on the Internet, now.— benny (@bendykoval) January 6, 2016
In addition to rebuking her and warning her about legal consequences, the administator searched Koval’s phone to make sure that he had not recorded their conversation. The student could be sued if she had, he told her.
The administrator was correct in their assumption; Koval posted videos of the meeting on Twitter. In one recording, Koval can heard telling the administrator that her tweets may have been controversial, but she didn’t think they were “problematic.”
“Well that’s your interpretation,” the administrator said. “There’s a state law that might interpret it differently.”
Ends with "the state law may interpret it differently", if you couldn't hear it. pic.twitter.com/fJsl5ygmsy— benny (@bendykoval) January 6, 2016
In a second clip, the administrator can be heard warning her about legal consequences again.
“You can sit there with your smug attitude right now, but if it’s got to go into a bullying case because you think it shouldn’t be and the state says it is, you’re going to lose,” he said.
Apparently a "smug attitude" is trying not to burst into tears. Do you know how bad a HIB report looks? pic.twitter.com/bqNLUmSc6b— benny (@bendykoval) January 6, 2016
Fair Lawn High School Principal James Marcella told The New York Times that the issue has been referred to the school district’s superintendent, Bruce Watson, and that a statement would be released on Thursday afternoon.
Stanley Cohen, a lawyer consulted by Koval’s family, said he that doubted that the complaints over her tweets would end up being a legal matter. He said he hoped school officials would looking beyond “the emotion of the moment and say ‘Move on, this is no big deal,’” adding that he believes that young people should be encouraged to express their opinions in an academic environment.