Pine Bush is a quiet, rural hamlet in upstate New York, some 90 miles from New York City. According to a front page article in Friday’s New York Times, it is reportedly home to a school district that is a hotbed of vicious anti-Semitism.
According to a lawsuit filed by three Jewish families, their children were pelted with coins, told to retrieve money thrown into garbage receptacles, shoved and even beaten. They were at the receiving end of anti-Semitic epithets and nicknames and horrific jokes about the Holocaust — at times with school faculty present. Swastikas were drawn and left on school property — and even forcibly drawn on a student’s face.
“I actually started to hate myself for being Jewish,” one Pine Bush High School graduate told the paper.
As we express our deep concern over these extremely serious accusations, we also must express our gratitude to the governor of New York State for his immediate and very on-target response. Only hours after the article detailing the charges was published, Gov. Andrew Cuomo instructed state police and the State Division of Human Rights to investigate the allegations, and then proceeded to write a strongly worded letter to Dr. John B. King, Jr., the Commissioner of Education of the State of New York.
After declaring that he found these charges, if true, to be “deeply disturbing,” Governor Cuomo made it clear that he is expecting action:
“I fully expect the State Department of Education (SED) to be forthcoming to parents across New York State regarding the Department’s knowledge of these reprehensible acts 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,” Gov. Cuomo wrote.“If these reports are true, I would like to know what, if anything, SED knew about this situation and if you or your department was aware, when you became aware, and what SED has done to investigate and/or address the situation,” he added.
While acknowledging the fact that anti-Semitic incidents occurred, school district officials have denied any wrongdoing. They claim that the district enforces anti-harassment policies and contends that its actions will be vindicated.
As the civil suit continues and the police investigation begins, it will take some time for all the facts to come out. But regardless of the precise allocation of guilt and responsibility in Pine Bush, the reaction from Albany was a breath of fresh air.