A White Plains federal judge ordered Tuesday that a civil suit may proceed against the Pine Bush Central School District for failing to stop continued anti-Semitic discrimination and harassment of five students from three Jewish families.
The suit, which prompted both state and federal investigations, was filed by the students’ families in March 2012.
Judge Kenneth Karas wrote in a 76-page decision that he could appreciate the efforts of school administrators in seeking both to educate and discipline the students responsible for the harassment but that it did not do enough.
“When, however, a district has knowledge that its current method of addressing the harassment is ineffective, it cannot rest on its past remedial efforts,” he wrote. “But conducting assemblies, even ones that specifically address the discrimination complained of, does not immunize a school district from liability ….”
He noted that the assemblies “did nothing to target anti-Semitism among the students who harassed” one of the five complaining students.
“Moreover, the administrators in question appear to have done nothing to attempt to address anti-Semitism in the district across schools, despite the fact that the incidents that occurred on the school bus involved students who were older than plaintiffs and who did not attend the same school,” the judge said.
He added: “In light of evidence of the [school] board’s knowledge of anti-Semitic harassment and its failure to respond in any reasonable way, including through training of school administrators and teachers, a jury could find that the facts demonstrate the district’s “inaction was the result of conscious choice and not mere negligence.”
The incidents were alleged to have occurred in the Pine Bush Elementary School, the Crispell Middle School and the Pine Bush High School beginning in 2008.
Named as defendants are the school district and administrators who oversaw the schools. The plaintiffs are seeking unspecified monetary damages and changes in the district to eliminate the culture of anti-Semitic bias.
Adele Kimmel, one of the plaintiffs’ lawyer, said the court ruling “puts schools on notice that they can’t turn a blind eye to rampant harassment. They must take adequate steps to try to eradicate a culture of bias.”
Another lawyer for the plaintiffs, Ilann M. Maazel, said of the ruling: “This is an important victory for these kids, and for all victims of harassment and bullying at school.”