Education Opinion

Indifference to Hate in School

By Walt Gardner — November 11, 2013 2 min read
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It’s hard to believe that school administrators would attempt to rationalize anti-Semitism under their noses, but that’s what happened in the Pine Bush Central School District located in a rural area of New York State (“Swastikas, Slurs and Torment in Town’s Schools,” The New York Times, Nov. 8). Slurs, drawings and bullying aimed at Jewish students drove three Jewish families to sue the 5,600-student district and its administrators in federal court. The plaintiffs are seeking damages and an end to pervasive anti-Semitism.

Although school officials have admitted in sworn depositions that there had been a problem, they maintain that it was not widespread and that they had responded appropriately with discipline. Both cavalier claims are hard to believe in light of the evidence. In 2011, then Supt. Philip Steinberg, who happens to be Jewish, wrote in an e-mail to a mother who had complained that “your expectations for changing inbred prejudice may be a bit unrealistic.” He said in subsequent interviews that the suit was a “money grab” and that the plaintiffs had “embellished” some allegations. Steinberg is now retired.

I’m not a lawyer, but I don’t see how the district can successfully defend itself against the charges. The statements are damning, particularly today when districts have made tolerance one of their primary goals. Could a district prevail if it were sued by black parents who claimed their children were subjected to taunts about their race? Steinberg said in his deposition that when he was interviewed for the position of superintendent, the Pine Bush school board cautioned him that the community had a history of anti-Semitism and Klan activity and that it “was not a Jewish area.”

School administrators, whether principals or superintendents, are supposed to create an atmosphere conducive to learning (“The Principal: The Most Misunderstood Person in All of Education,” The Atlantic, Nov. 8). Allowing hate to exist in any form is guaranteed to undermine whatever else positive takes place. The publication of The New York Times front-page article almost on the same day of Kristallnacht 75 years ago - Nov. 9, 1938 - during the Nazi era shows that eternal vigilence is warranted (“The shadow of Kristallnacht,” Los Angeles Times, Nov. 8). It should also shame the Pine Bush school board, which is now the subject of a widening investigation (“Cuomo Orders Investigations Into Claims of Anti-Semitic Acts in a School District,” The New York Times, Nov. 9).

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.