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New York School District Settles Anti-Semitic Bullying Case

New York School District Settles Anti-Semitic Bullying Case

Graffiti photographed by security at Pine Bush High School.

A New York state school district has agreed to sweeping changes that will protect children from systemic harassment and bullying, as part of a settlement with five current and former students who suffered virulent anti-Semitic harassment at school, The New York Times reported.  

Under the settlement, which is pending approval by Judge Kenneth M. Karas, the school district agreed to comprehensive reform over three years that includes new anti-bullying policies, training for all district employees, student education and discipline, tracking, reporting and investigations of anti-Semitic incidents, an annual anti-bullying survey, and a revamped anti-discrimination coordinator. The school district must revise its anti-bullying policies to ensure that they prohibit anti-Semitic harassment, and that such harassment is “promptly and thoroughly” investigated. It must also impose “meaningful, consistent, minimum consequences” for anti-Semitic harassment and increase the severity of the consequences for repeated harassment.

As part of the settlement, the district will provide mandatory training for teachers and other employees on how to recognize and report anti-Semitic and other forms of harassment, as well as an anti-bullying and diversity curriculum for all students, led by the Anti-Defamation League. The settlement also requires the district to continue the “No Place for Hate Committee” it established after the suit was filed and publicized. That committee will help monitor the district’s progress in addressing bias, discrimination, bullying, intimidation and harassment.

To ensure that these reforms succeed, they will be reviewed by the United States Department of Education Office for Civil Rights and subject to the federal court’s continuing jurisdiction for the next three years.

“The substantial reforms in the Pine Bush settlement are a blueprint for what school districts across the country should do to prevent and address bullying in their schools,” said Adele Kimmel, Public Justice Senior Attorney and co-counsel for the plaintiffs.

“The education and training programs required by the settlement are a particularly crucial component of any anti-bullying plan. Because the brave students in this case don’t want others to suffer as they did, schools now have a roadmap for reducing harassment and improving tolerance,” Kimmel said.

The district also agreed to pay compensation to the students, and fees, of $4.48 million. The civil rights suit, filed in 2012, alleged that district officials failed for years to protect the five Jewish students from widespread harassment. Each of them suffered repeated, intolerable acts of anti-Semitic harassment that included physical violence; coin throwing; anti-Semitic slurs; Holocaust “jokes;” swastikas and other anti-Semitic graffiti on desks, lockers, yearbooks, schoolbooks, bathroom walls, hallway walls, and an elementary school slide; and terrifying bus rides with students making Nazi salutes and leading “white power” chants. As a result of this nightmare, all five plaintiffs suffered from social isolation, depression, and post-traumatic stress.

“These five children stood up for themselves, for their community, and for what is right,” said Ilann Maazel, of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady, co-counsel for the students. “After all the suffering, the isolation, and the trauma they endured, they should be proud that they made a difference in Pine Bush.”

Judge Karas will consider whether to approve the settlement at a hearing scheduled on July 9.

In addition to Kimmel and Maazel, the plaintiffs were represented by Michael Meth of Meth Law Offices, and O. Andrew F. Wilson and Zoe Salzman of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady.

This lawsuit is part of Public Justice’s Anti-Bullying Campaign, which is designed to hold schools accountable when they fail to protect our children and make school districts do a better job of preventing and responding to bullying.