FAIR LAWN, N.J. -- Fair Lawn school officials were following New Jersey's anti-bullying law when they questioned a high school student about anti-Israeli comments she posted on Twitter, the district superintendent said Thursday afternoon.
"While pupil confidentiality laws prevent us from identifying or discussing individual pupils, we stress at the outset that at no time have District officials sought to censor or reprimand any pupils for their online speech," Schools Supt. Bruce Watson wrote in a statement.
Bethany Koval, 16, who calls herself an Israeli Jew, said she secretly recorded a Wednesday visit to her principal's office during which she said she was told that some of her anti-Israeli, expletive-filled tweets could get her suspended or expelled under New Jersey's Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act.
Koval said she also was forced to produce a written statement without having an attorney present and was ordered to turn over her phone so the principal could determine whether she'd recorded the meeting.
Koval -- whose posts have touched on abortion rights and the Syrian war, among other subjects -- said administrators zeroed in on a Dec. 27 tweet in which she called a classmate who unfollowed her because of her views "that pro-Israel girl from my school." She then offered to give the girl's name to a sympathizer, raising fears of bullying.
Watson said the district "recognizes and respects individuals' First Amendment rights to free speech."
However, he said, administrators "received a complaint alleging potential harassment, intimidation or bullying by one student against another. We are obligated by New Jersey's anti-bullying statute -- one of the strictest in the nation -- to investigate any such allegation to determine whether an act of HIB occurred."
The probe "is focused solely on the factors we are required to apply by law and not upon any political opinions expressed by any pupils," Watson said. "We will complete our investigation in accordance with all legal requirements, and will continue to ensure that all parties involved are given a full and fair opportunity to share their side of the story."
After that, he said, he'll decide what to do and report privately to the Board of Education, as the law requires.
Koval tweeted that she left school early on Thursday because of "too much aggression amongst classmates."
"Going home now," read the 10:22 a.m. tweet. "I'm safe." (SEE: https://twitter.com/bendykoval).
"They use 'bullying' as a guise to cover their pro-Israel, pro-censorship goals," she previously wrote. Other tweets have referred to Israel as a "terrorist force" and Hamas as "not extreme."
A district source told Daily Voice that school administrators "have been getting emails threats, calls, etc. from wackos all over the world."
Meanwhile, an Arizona girl launched a GoFundMe legal defense page for Koval that raised barely $450 in its first 24 hours.
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