READINGTON — The state's acting education commissioner had to determine whether a seventh grader had been bullied by classmates who called him a "know it all."

His verdict two years after the incident? It wasn't.

School officials in this Hunterdon County township's school district had already determined the name-calling was not bullying, but the student's father appealed their decision.

The state's anti-bullying law was toughed in 2011. It requires school officials to immediately report and investigate incidents of bullying on school grounds or online. The law has been repeatedly challenged in courts and before the state education commissioner by parents of both bullied students and accused bullies.

In another recent case, an administrative law judge overturned the Bridgewater-Raritan school district's determination that a 7-year-old girl had bullied a classmate over her speech impediment. The judge's decision, however, was based on a technicality: district officials failed to provide their findings in writing to the girl's parents.

In the Readington case, the father also took issue with officials' determining that his son, who is Korean-American, being described by another student as "yellow" did not rise to the level of harassment, intimidation or bullying under state law.

The law describes bullying as mistreatment based on race, gender or a distinguishing characteristic. The conduct also has to substantially disrupt or interfere with the orderly operations of a school — which prevents students from being punished for mere teasing.

In a decision reached earlier this month, the acting commissioner agreed that being called a "know it all" was not "motivated by an actual or perceived characteristic."

While the second comment — a classmate told the student, who was wearing a yellow shirt, “you’re already yellow; you’re Asian” — was based on the student's race, it could not be considered substantially disruptive because the student’s response to investigators was that “fortunately, this was not problematic for my learning experience, but it ticked me off at the time.”

Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-438-1015 or email sergio.bichao@townsquaremedia.com.

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