New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered the state police and the Division of Human Rights to launch a probe into accusations that anti-Semitic bullying is being allowed to run rampant in the Pine Bush Central School District, just 90 minutes outside of New York City.
Parents filed suit after five students complained of pervasive anti-Semitic bullying and indifference from school officials.
Students reported having coins hurled at them, being told to retrieve money from garbage cans, shoved and even beaten, the New York Times reported. Students say they are subjected to anti-Semitic nicknames and cruel japes about the Holocaust.
A picture of President Barack Obama with a swastika drawn on his forehead stayed up on the wall in an eighth-grade social studies classroom for about a month after a student reported it to a teacher.
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"The reports of rampant anti-Semitic harassment and physical assaults at Pine Bush schools, if true, are deeply disturbing," Cuomo said in a statement to the state education commissioner.
"Here in New York State, we have zero tolerance for bigotry or hate based on anyone's religious or ethnic origin, and to that end, I have directed the State Police and the Division of Human Rights, to undergo a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding these acts," he added.
The district, serving 5,600 students from Orange, Sullivan, and Ulster Counties, denies the allegations.
While former school officials acknowledged there may have been an anti-Semitic bullying problem, they denied it was widespread. They said officials responded appropriately to the claims.
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“The school failed at every level. This is one of the worst bullying cases I've seen,” said attorney Ilann M. Maazel, who represents the students.
In their deposition, the children claim at least 35 students carried out acts of anti-Semitic abuse.
“There were multiple children who just did not feel safe going to school day after day,” he added.
One parent claims that they complained to the Pine Bush superintendent back in 2011 that their daughter and another Jewish girl was being harassed.
Superintendent Philip G. Steinberg responded to the parent in an email: “I have said I will meet with your daughters and I will, but your expectations for changing inbred prejudice may be a bit unrealistic.”
The New York State Education Department issued a response to allegations Friday after Gov. Cuomo.
"We share the Governor's revulsion at the reports of heinous anti-Semitic acts at the Pine Bush Central School District," said executive deputy commissioner Elizabeth R. Berlin.