Last Friday, the New York Times reported on disturbing claims that the Pine Bush Central School District, located in a rural area about 90 minutes north of New York City, isn't doing nearly enough to curb rampant anti-Semitic activity. Three parents have filed a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging that their kids have had to deal with seeing swastikas in the bathrooms, fellow students giving Nazi salutes, horrific jokes about the Holocaust and other forms of intimidation. At least one of the parents had to pull her daughter out of school due to the harassment. I diaried on this on Friday night.
Well, the district is now the target of separate civil rights investigations from state and federal officials. Literally hours after this story hit the press, Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered the state police and the State Division of Human Rights to look into the allegations.
“The reports of rampant anti-Semitic harassment and physical assaults at Pine Bush schools, if true, are deeply disturbing,” Mr. Cuomo said in a statement.Cuomo also wants King to give the district's parents a full accounting of what's being done to address the situation. The state education department says it's working on "an immediate course of action" to ensure that Pine Bush's students can go to school "without fear of harassment or physical attack." State attorney general Eric Schneiderman is also investigating.
“The public has a right to know the truth,” he added, “and parents across the state have the right to know that their children can attend our schools without fear of this reprehensible behavior.”
Mr. Cuomo also released a letter that he had sent to the state education commissioner, John B. King Jr., asking what, if anything, the agency knew about the situation in the Pine Bush district, and what it might have done to address it.
Earlier today, the Old Grey Lady learned that the U. S. Attorney for New York's Southern District--whose jurisdiction includes the territory covered by Pine Bush--launched its own investigation just hours after the state probe started.
In a letter to the district’s lawyer on Friday, the office of Preet Bharara, the United States attorney, said that it was “specifically” looking into whether the school system, its Board of Education, employees and agents “have discriminated against students on the basis of national origin and religion.”Given how quickly officials in Albany and at St. Andrews Plaza swung into action, it can only mean that there's something to the families' allegations. Which means it may be only a matter of time before the families' suit gets settled--and a lot of people in Pine Bush get fired.
The office’s letter to the district’s lawyer suggests that federal investigators will address “potential violations” of civil rights laws by the district in allowing discrimination to occur.
“If any violations are found, we look forward to conferring with you concerning appropriate corrective actions,” says the letter, which is signed by Michael J. Byars, an assistant United States attorney.