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NY launches probe on claims of anti-Semitic bullying

By Elizabeth Landers, CNN
November 9, 2013 -- Updated 2207 GMT (0607 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The reports " if true, are deeply disturbing," Gov. Andrew Cuomo said
  • The report came after a lawsuit was filled in the case
  • One of the claims was that a swastika drawn on a student's face against her will

(CNN) -- Gov. Andrew Cuomo directed state police and the Division of Human Rights on Friday to investigate allegations of anti-Semitic harassment in a New York state school district.

"The reports of rampant anti-Semitic harassment and physical assaults at Pine Bush schools, if true, are deeply disturbing," Cuomo said in a statement to the state education commissioner.

"Here in New York State, we have zero tolerance for bigotry or hate based on anyone's religious or ethnic origin, and to that end, I have directed the State Police and the Division of Human Rights, to undergo a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding these acts," Cuomo added.

His statement follows claims and a subsequent lawsuit from five students who attended school in the Pine Bush Central School District and were bullied and harassed, according to their lawyer Ilann M. Maazel.

Maazel describes "out of control anti-Semitism in the school district. The school failed at every level. This is one of the worst bullying cases I've seen."

The alleged physical attacks against Jewish students included a swastika drawn on a student's face against her will, the severe beating of one with a hockey stick, and repeated slapping of another in the head, according to the lawsuit that Maazel filed in 2012. Maazel adds that the harassment didn't stop, even after the lawsuit was filed.

A photograph provided by Pine Bush High School shows swastikas drawn on a wall.  A photograph provided by Pine Bush High School shows swastikas drawn on a wall.
A photograph provided by Pine Bush High School shows swastikas drawn on a wall. A photograph provided by Pine Bush High School shows swastikas drawn on a wall.

In addition, damage occurred on school property, such as drawn swastikas that remained "for weeks or months," Cuomo said in the statement.

The incidents reportedly occurred at Pine Bush Elementary School, Crispell Middle School and Pine Bush High School, all within the Pine Bush Central School District.

Cuomo's statement came after the New York Times did a story about the case.

The school district has also made a statement on the issue.

"The district takes all reports of discrimination or bullying seriously," said district superintendent Joan M. Carbone. "As the litigation described in the New York Times article of November 8th, is still pending, the District can make no specific comment about the particulars of the lawsuit. We are hopeful that at the conclusion of this litigation, Pine Bush Central School District's actions will be vindicated."

The New York State Education Department filed a response to Cuomo's questions and call to action later on Friday.

"We share the governor's revulsion at the reports of heinous anti-Semitic acts at the Pine Bush Central School District," said Elizabeth R. Berlin, the executive deputy commissioner.

She stated that this was the first time that the State Education Department had become aware of the allegations of anti-Semitism.

Maazel said he did not know why the governor hadn't previously noticed the matter, though he added, "I applaud any effort to investigate this huge problem."

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman released a statement as well, admonishing the "blind eye" that was taken to these instances of "illegal bullying and discrimination."

The attorney general also said that his Civil Rights Bureau launched an ongoing investigation after it received complaints from Jewish students.

Maazel told CNN that he was not aware of any investigation that the attorney general conducted. He said he was never contacted for questions or evidence by their office.

Dennis Tompkins with the New York State Education Department said: "We were not involved or aware of the attorney general's investigation. We have 4,500 schools; we try to maintain contact with all of them but can't."

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