NJ says Monmouth school may have failed to protect Jewish girl
State officials said they have found evidence that the Monmouth County Vocational School District failed to properly address anti-Semitic harassment of a Jewish student who ultimately had to transfer out of the school.
In a June 2018 complaint filed with the state Division on Civil Rights, a parent said that her daughter was mercilessly taunted because of her faith at the district-run Marine Academy of Science and Technology high school in Sandy Hook.
The mother said that students engaged in anti-Semitic harassment aimed at her daughter on a regular basis over the course of her three years at the school, including an April 2018 incident during which two male students wrote “I H8 JEWS” in large letters in the sand at a school-sponsored event, and then circulated a photo of one of them laying on the ground next to the message.
The mother said her daughter was extremely upset by the image when she received it over text, as well as by student comments that followed, including one suggesting the picture be used as the cover for the yearbook.
After the girl’s father notified school officials of the photograph and group messages, the complaint alleges, that the girl was harassed and called a “snitch” by her fellow students, and was shunned during school.
Civl rights investigators said that MAST investigated the beach photo incident and imposed four days of out-of-school suspensions on the two students. The school also imposed a two-day suspension on the student who commented that the photo should be used as the yearbook cover.
The state's finding of probable cause says that the beach incident “may have been part of a broader pattern of anti-Semitic conduct at MAST that called for broader institutional actions on the part of the school.” By not undertaking such actions, the school may “have not acted reasonably” under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination.
The state concluded that aside from imposing discipline in connection with the beach photo incident, “it does not appear the school took any broader actions to discern the extent of anti-Semitic behavior at the school, or to address the reported concerns.”
Civil Rights Director Rachel Wainer Apter said schools have the responsibility to address a "culture of prejudice" within their walls and "take steps to ensure that its students are not subjected to a hostile environment based on race, religion, sexual orientation, disability, gender identity or expression, or other protected characteristics.”
The complaint filed by the girl’s mother alleges that her daughter enrolled at MAST as a freshman and was subjected to a climate of anti-Semitism for three years before transferring out of the school for her senior year.
The mother’s complaint also says that during her daughter’s sophomore year, her fellow students drew swastikas on cafeteria lunch tables and on their notebooks, students publicly read Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” during “read” periods in class, even though the book was not an assigned part of the curriculum, and a rock with the word “Adolf” written on it was placed on top of a water cooler directly behind the girl’s assigned seat in English class.
The state said that they learned from the teacher that once she was made aware of the rock, she disposed of it on a pile of rocks behind her classroom but did not report the incident.
"Our schools are there to provide a safe and nurturing environment in which our young people can learn and grow,” Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said in a written statement. “Hate and harassment have no place in our schools, and it’s ultimately the responsibility of school officials to ensure that their schools offer a learning environment that is not hostile to individuals with any particular religious background or other protected characteristics.”
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