NJ school district says booster club bullied player by disinviting him to dinner
MAPLEWOOD — The South Orange-Maplewood school district says the baseball booster club bullied a student by disinviting him to its annual dinner in retaliation for blowing the whistle on an abusive coach.
But the state commissioner of education this week threw out that ruling, saying that the state’s anti-bullying law can only be enforced against individuals, not groups.
The ruling is the latest chapter in the Essex County school district’s ongoing battle with former coaches accused of abusive behavior against student athletes.
The decision also comes on the same week that a coach at another New Jersey high school was not allowed to participate at his team's Thanksgiving game after being accused of bullying some of his players.
The South Orange-Maplewood head coach and an assistant were ousted last year after several students and parents complained about their tactics.
The coaches were accused of using vulgar and obscene language. A lawsuit filed by a student last year in Superior Court says the coaches allowed a sign to be posted that accused the student of performing oral sex on men.
Former head coach Joe Fischetti, meanwhile, is suing the district in a complaint that blasts officials for “sham investigations” and “false and defamatory” statements.
District officials said the Columbia High School Baseball Boosters, a volunteer group of adults and parents who help raise money for the team, disinvited one of the players from an end-of-year dinner after he publicly complained about his coaches.
As a result, the local Board of Education determined that the boosters violated the state’s Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying law.
But an administrative law judge found that the law does not apply to the booster club, only to staff, students or volunteers.
The commissioner agreed with the assessment, explaining that the board would have to find that an individual member of the booster club engaged in retaliation.
The district superintendent did not respond to a request for comment emailed Wednesday.
In Highland Park, meanwhile, several students accused their coach of punching them in the face or grabbing their face masks, throwing a chair at one student, and verbally abusing them. The coach's attorney has denied the allegations.
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Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.