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Calif. Teacher Victim of Anti-Semitic Slurs, A.C.L.U. Suit Says

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The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California sued a school district and several parents in federal court last week on behalf of a teacher who claims he was discriminated against because he is Jewish.

The elementary school teacher was the victim of anti-Semitic slurs and intimidation by a group of conservative Christian parents in the Hemet district, according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court. The suit also names a principal and the school board members in the 15,000-student district.

The accusations came weeks after the Hemet board abandoned its sex-education requirement in an attempt to end another controversy that brought it national attention. The vote last month to abolish sex education ended a two-year legal battle with local parents who claimed the "Sex Respect" curriculum the board had adopted was medically inaccurate and promoted Christian beliefs. (See Education Week, 10/12/94.)

Rather than prolong the fight over whether the materials were appropriate for use in the classroom, the board decided to drop sex-education classes altogether. The decision will affect nearly 6,000 students, officials said.

Members of the parents' group that sued the board said last week that they were upset by the decision, however. Students are entitled to a comprehensive education as well as life-saving information, said Debra Fischer, the group's lawyer. The parents have not decided whether to challenge the board's decision, she added.

State-required courses such as aids awareness will continue to be offered.

A Case of Discrimination?

The discrimination lawsuit was brought on behalf of Kenneth Kaufman, who is on indefinite leave from Ramona Elementary School, where he taught for 20 years. Mr. Kaufman contends he was the victim of repeated anti-Semitic slurs and intimidation by conservative parents who disagreed with his views.

At a recent meeting, Mr. Kaufman and Ramona Elementary's principal, Marcy Savage, reportedly disagreed over the school's spending priorities, said Carol Sobel, an A.C.L.U. lawyer representing Mr. Kaufman. The dispute degenerated into a personal attack in which several parents shouted slurs at the teacher, Ms. Sobel said. She added that her client was told that several parents said they wanted to "get that Jew out of the classroom."

"It's a witch hunt," Ms. Sobel said.

A lawyer for the district declined comment on the lawsuit last week, saying school officials had not yet seen it.

In the lawsuit, Mr. Kaufman seeks reinstatement and requirements that the district establish diversity and sensitivity training for all district employees. A trial date had not been set.

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