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Pine Bush Anti-Semitic Bullying Case Spurs Governor Cuomo to Propose Law to Better Protect Students from Discrimination and Harassment

Pine Bush Anti-Semitic Bullying Case Spurs Governor Cuomo to Propose Law to Better Protect Students from Discrimination and Harassment

By Adele Kimmel, Managing Attorney

Lawyer bashing is nearly a national sport. But people seem to have forgotten how often civil litigation has led to important social change. And civil litigation is just as important today as it was when a courageous group of individuals filed Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark civil rights case that paved the way for integration in public education.

Yesterday, NY Governor Cuomo issued a press release on the “State of the State,” outlining his agenda for 2014. His agenda references the allegations of horrific anti-Semitic harassment in Public Justice’s bullying case against Pine Bush Central School District, and calls for amendments to state law to better protect students against discrimination and harassment.

Governor Cuomo calls for amendments to state law to better protect students against discrimination and harassment during his 2014 “State of the State” Address.

Why is Governor Cuomo proposing changes to NY law? The answer is simple. The civil lawsuit filed against Pine Bush Central School District brought these important social issues to his attention. If the case had not been filed and it had not gotten national attention, Governor Cuomo would not be taking steps to provide students with greater protection from harassment and discrimination.

As reported in the NY Times, Jewish students in Pine Bush are subjected to endemic anti-Semitic harassment. Swastikas are all over the schools and Jewish students are pelted with coins, confronted with Nazi salutes, and forced to endure regular “jokes” about the Holocaust. And Pine Bush school officials have turned a blind eye to this for years.

After the NY Times reported on the lawsuit, Governor Cuomo ordered an investigation by State Police and the State Division of Human Rights. The U.S. Department of Justice also launched its own investigation.

Now Governor Cuomo proposes “to require all public schools to notify the State Education Department (SED), the Division of Human Rights and the State Police if there is a pattern of discrimination or harassment. Schools will also be required to implement SED-constructed plans to remedy these injustices. The Governor also proposed to amend the Human Rights Law to ensure that all students are afforded protection against discrimination.”

This is certainly a step in the right direction. And it’s consistent with one of the main goals of the lawsuit—to bring about systemic change in the way the school district addresses and responds to anti-Semitic harassment of its students.

So, to all those naysayers who view civil litigation as inherently bad, I’d suggest they examine the evidence. Exhibit A today is Governor Cuomo’s press statement. His proposed amendments to better protect NY school children stems from five bullying victims who had the courage to file a civil lawsuit.