Pine Bush Central School District in upstate New York settled an anti-semitism lawsuit on Monday brought by five former and current Jewish students, according to a statement. They will pay the students $4.48 million, The New York Times reported.
The March 2012lawsuit alleged that the five students suffered years of anti-Semitic discrimination and harassment from elementary to high school, including racial slurs, graffiti and drawings of swastikas, Holocaust jokes and physical attacks including being beaten by a hockey stick.
School officials did not do enough to protect them and violated their right to equal access to education, the lawsuit said. The three schools named in the lawsuit were Pine Bush Elementary School, Crispell Middle School and Pine Bush High School.
In a statement, the Pine Bush Central School District said they reached a resolution based on a comprehensive plan to address anti-Semitic harassment allegations and strengthen its tolerance and anti-bullying initiatives.
"Anti-Semitic harassment is wrong. The District will never condone anti-Semitic slurs or graffiti, Holocaust jokes,' or physical violence. No family should have to experience the hurt and pain that bullying and name-calling can cause children to endure because of their religious, national or cultural identity," the statement said.
More than 5,500 students are enrolled in the Pine Bush Central School District. The area served as the headquarters of the Independent Northern Klans — a Ku Klux Klan group — in the 1970s. Janice Schoonmaker, a KKK member and the wife of the" Grand Dragon" of the Klan, served on the Pine Bush School Board at the time.
According to the lawsuit, the students were subjected to anti-Semitic slurs from other students including, "dirty, disgusting Jew," "stupid Jew," "Christ killer," "Jesus hater," "Kike," "Ashes," and "Crispy"— the latter two slurs being references to burning Jews during the Holocaust.
The students were also subjected to "rampant" anti-Semitic graffiti and images on the school property, the lawsuit said. Swastikas allegedly drawn and engraved on books, bathroom walls, desks, and playground equipment, at times with the names of the Jewish students written in it, remained for weeks, despite students' complaints to authorities.
Other students used pipe cleaners to make effigies of Hasidic Jews at which they threw pennies, performed "Hitler salutes" and made Holocaust jokes such as: "What is the difference between a Jew and a pizza? One doesn't scream as it gets put in the oven," the plaintiffs alleged.
The suit also said there were physical attacks against the students. A swastika was drawn on the face of one Jewish student's face when she was in the sixth-grade and another student was hit in the hand with a hockey stick during a game, according to the lawsuit.
One plaintiff alleged he was repeatedly slapped in the head on the school bus after students asked him if he was a Jew, and another had to fend off students who were trying to shove coins into her mouth.
During a seventh grade English class about the Holocaust, a student allegedly told one of the plaintiffs that she should be burned. She also overheard a student telling another that they should "
"stab [her] with a menorah and sink her with a cross."
The five students were "psychologically traumatized" by the "relentless and inescapable" harassment, the lawsuit said, to the extent that one of the plaintiffs had to be home-schooled while another left the school district for nearly a year "to help him recover from the trauma." Their grades dropped and they were forced to stay at home at times to avoid the harassment that school, the suit said.
The Pine Bush School District denied most of the allegations detailed in the lawsuit and asked for the suit to be dismissed entirely in 2013, stating that school officials took "reasonable care" to prevent anti-Semitic conduct in the school. The district also claimed that the Jewish students failed to take advantage of "the preventive and corrective opportunities" offered by the administration.
In November 2013, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered the state police and human rights division to investigate the "deeply disturbing"allegations in the district, the New York Times reported.
In its statement announcing the settlement on Monday, the school district said said it had undertaken several steps to counter harassment and that it would "further" these initiatives to address anti-Semitism in its schools.
"Protecting its students from acts of bullying, harassment, intimidation and threats, is one of the School District's highest priorities," the statement said.