Swastikas, Nazi Salutes and Hate Speech in Pine Bush Schools: Why School Leaders Need an Education on Bullying Prevention
By Adele Kimmel, Managing Attorney
“If being Jewish is so important to you, why would you move into a community that does not have a synagogue? If you want your kids to hang out with more Jewish children or have more tolerance, why would you pick a community like Pine Bush?”
As discussed in today’s NY Times, this is how the superintendent of Pine Bush Central School District, Philip G. Steinberg, responded when parents of Jewish students complained about unrelenting anti-Semitic harassment at school. I kid you not.
This is exactly why Public Justice represents the bulling victims in a lawsuit against the school district. And that’s why civil litigation is such an important tool for curbing school bullying.
As a parent, and as a member of the legal team that represents the students and their families in the Pine Bush lawsuit, I am appalled by Mr. Steinberg’s response. Kids should never be told that the solution to being the target of unrelenting school bullying is to move to another town!
This is a classic example of blaming the victim. And it’s being done by the school district’s leader. With an attitude like that, it’s no surprise that anti-Semitic harassment is endemic in Pine Bush schools and that Jewish kids aren’t safe there.
The “you should have moved elsewhere” mentality sounds a lot like the justifications given for racial hate crimes like lynchings.
To make matters worse, Mr. Steinberg justified the school district’s inaction based on how widespread anti-Semitism is in the district. As he said in his deposition: “The issue is not three students doing it all the time; the question is if you have 30 students doing it,” he said. “How do you undo the years of inbred prejudice?”
Let me get this straight. If the bullying isn’t so bad, then a school should do something. But if it’s rampant, turn your back? That’s Pine Bush’s recipe for responding to endemic bullying of Jewish students, where swastikas are everywhere and Jewish students are pelted with coins, confronted with Nazi salutes, and endure regular “jokes” about the Holocaust.
In short, Pine Bush just doesn’t get it. And its school leaders—among others—need an education. Mr. Steinberg described the lawsuit in recent interviews as a “money grab.”
But as part of a civil lawsuit, we can get a court to order school districts to institute long-term anti-bullying education of school leaders, teachers, and students alike that will change the culture of the school district. Even if you can’t change “inbred prejudice,” (How is prejudice “inbred?” What’s the gene for that?) schools can’t turn a blind eye when students act on those prejudices and torment their peers with hate crimes.
This and other lawsuits like it are about justice and systemic change. Apparently, Pine Bush needs an education about that too.