In November, New York State’s governor ordered the New York State Police and Division of Human Rights to investigate allegations of anti-Semitic bullying in the Pine Bush Central School District. The investigation stems from a lawsuit filed on behalf of five current and former students in the district alleging that they suffered anti-Semitic discrimination, harassment, and bullying. The students claim that the harassment continued for years and that school officials never took appropriate action. The amended complaint filed with New York’s Southern District Court can be found here. Specifically, the students claim that they were subjected to anti-Semitic slurs; that students drew anti-Semitic images on books, walls, desks, and other district property; and that students joked about the Holocaust, celebrated Hitler’s birthday, and made Hitler salutes.

Governor Cuomo also sent a letter to the state education commissioner, John B. King, Jr., asking if SED knew of the situation and what it has done to address it. SED responded by stating that it just became aware of the allegations and would cooperate with the investigation. Following Governor Cuomo’s request, the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York opened a civil rights investigation into the matter. The U.S. attorneys notified the school district that it was specifically investigating whether the board of education, employees, and agents “have discriminated against students on the basis of national origin and religion.” The Office of the New York State Attorney General, headed by Eric T. Schneiderman, is also conducting an investigation.

Given the extensive media attention and numerous investigations resulting from the filing of this lawsuit, the results of the investigations and recommendations for corrective action may be instructive to other districts facing lawsuits and state discrimination complaints. SED has specifically stated that it will be “determin[ing] an immediate course of action to protect students and ensure that all students can attend Pine Bush without fear of harassment or physical attack.” Pine Bush is a reminder to districts that they must immediately take action when made aware of discriminatory actions. A comprehensive investigation into any allegations can save districts from scrutiny from other agencies and potentially limit their liability in any future lawsuit.


Melanie Beardsley is an associate in the Education Practice at Hodgson Russ LLP. You can reach her at .