State Files Complaint Against District For Mishandling Anti-Semitic Incident

Photo courtesy Monmouth County Vocational School

  TRENTON – A complaint has been filed with the Monmouth County Vocational School District following an anti-Semitic incident which caused a Jewish student to transfer out of the district, announced Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal.

  Grewal and the Division on Civil Rights (DCR) have issued a Finding of Probable Cause (FPC) against the Monmouth County Vocational School District over the issue, claiming that the district failed to properly address the harassment.

  In June 2018, a parent filed a complaint with the DCR claiming that her daughter, a minor at the time, was subjected to unlawful discrimination based on religion at the district-run Marine Academy of Science and Technology (MAST) high school.

  According to the parent’s complaint, her daughter’s classmates targeted their anti-Semitic sentiments at her over the course of three years. She later transferred out of the school for her senior year. In an April 2018 incident, two male students wrote “I H8 JEWS” in large letters in the sand at a school-sponsored event and then shared a photo of one of them lying on the ground next to the message.

  The complainant said her daughter was extremely upset by the image when she received it over text, as well as by student comments that followed. One student even suggested the picture be used as the cover for the yearbook.

  The girl’s father then brought the matter of the photo and comments to the school district, which led to her being called a “snitch” by her fellow students, shunned during the school day and outside of school.

  According to DCR’s investigation, the MAST high school disciplined the student involved, doling out four-day, out-of-school suspensions on the two students responsible as well as a two-day suspension on the student who commented that the photo should be used as the yearbook cover.

  But according to the complaint, that was all they did. The FPC states that “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.”

  “Our schools are there to provide a safe and nurturing environment in which our young people can learn and grow,” said Attorney General Grewal. “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.”

  The FPC notes that this 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.” Thus, the complaint alleges that the school may “have not acted reasonably” under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD).

  The mother’s complaint speaks to this, naming a few other incidents of harassment, alleging:

  • 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
  • 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.

  In an interview with DCR, the teacher explained that once she was made aware that the rock said “Adolf,” she disposed of it on a pile of rocks behind her classroom, but did not report the incident.

     A Finding of Probable Cause does not resolve a civil rights complaint. Rather, it means the State has concluded its preliminary investigation and determined there is sufficient evidence to support a reasonable suspicion New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (LAD) has been violated.