N.J. students seek apology for diplomas withheld after bullying accusations

By July 5, 2012

The two students from Middletown High School whose diplomas were withheld because of their alleged violation of anti-bullying rules received their diplomas.

Now, they want an apology.

The 18 year-old senior class presidents, Eric Dominach and Mike Sebastiano, gave a speech at their graduation containing jokes directed at specific students and their school district.

According to the Asbury Park Press, the students say administrators withheld their diplomas because the speech may have violated anti-bullying guidelines.

The Middletown Superintendent, William George, said, "There were students and staff mentioned and portrayed in a less than positive light, or a negative light. That warranted an investigation to make sure nobody was victimized."

Sebastiano asserted, ""Our speech didn’t justify that outcome. We knew our speech didn’t offend anyone, we thought it was unfair."

According to the Asbury Park Press, the district asked the students to remove several jokes from the speech before it was given, but the students left them in, as well as other jokes that hadn’t drawn the attention of administration.

The New Jersey law that the students were allegedly breaking has drawn fire from many free-speech advocates.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in education, or FIRE, released an article that said, "the law also violates college students’ First Amendment rights. The law ignores the fact that harassment in the educational context has a precise legal definition, crafted by the Supreme Court with specific attention to balancing the right to freedom of expression with the government’s interest in prohibiting real harassment."

As reported by the Asbury Park Press, the investigation of the incident involved the school administration talking to the people mentioned in Dominach and Sebastiano’s speech and seeing if they were offended.

The district withheld the boys’ diplomas until June 20. Soon thereafter, a Board of Education meeting was scheduled to occur. Students and parents alike intended to protest at the meeting.

Patti Dominach stated, "We’ve asked for an apology. They held the power. They held the diplomas. They embarrassed the boys and didn’t let them pick up their diplomas with their peers, and embarrassed them again by calling their peers (about whether they felt bullied)."