Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Friday that he was launching an investigation into allegations of anti-Semitic harassment, physical assaults, and intimidation at the Pine Bush Central School District in New York.
Cuomo's announcement came in the wake of a New York Times article documenting the alleged anti-Semitism that led three Jewish families to file a lawsuit in federal court against the district. The families are seeking damages and an end to what they referred to as the pervasive anti-Semitism and indifference by school officials.
Pine Bush is located about 90 minutes north of New York City and was once home to a local Ku Klux Klan chapter president.
According to the Times, Jewish students in the district recalled seeing swastikas in playgrounds, on walls, desks, lockers, textbooks, computer screens, and even drawn on a student’s face. The students claimed they regularly heard anti-Semitic epithets and nicknames, and jokes about the Holocaust. Students also reported that they were pelted with coins, shoved, beaten, and told to retrieve money from garbage cans.
"The reports of rampant anti-Semitic harassment and physical assaults at Pine Bush schools, if true, are deeply disturbing,” Cuomo said. “Here in New York State, we have zero tolerance for bigotry or hate based on anyone's religious or ethnic origin."
The district has vigorously disputed the claims made in the suit. Laura Wong-Pan, a lawyer for the district, told the Times that Pine Bush worked to address the student’s complaints and "deal with bullying in general" through counseling, detentions, suspensions, letters to parents and meetings.
She said the district also held anti-bullying assemblies and classroom discussions addressing anti-Semitism and tolerance.
"We absolutely do not tolerate any bullying," Pine Bush School Superintendent Joan Carbone told NBC 4 New York. "We are hopeful that we'll be vindicated at the conclusion of this litigation."
Cuomo said Friday that he had directed State Police and the Division of Human Rights to "undergo a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding these acts."
Cuomo also sent a letter to State Education Commissioner John King asking what knowledge the State Department of Education had about the allegations and what if any steps have been taken to ensure "Pine Bush students of Jewish origin can attend their school without being subject to anti-Semitic attacks."
"The public has a right to know the truth, and parents across the state have the right to know that their children can attend our schools without fear of this reprehensible behavior," Cuomo said.