PINE BUSH, N.Y., Nov. 8 (UPI) -- Current and former officials of a New York school district deny anti-Semitism is widespread in local schools despite numerous complaints from Jewish students.
In depositions taken in connection with a lawsuit filed by parents of the students, the officials with the Pine Bush Central School District acknowledged the problem had existed, but said appropriate action had been taken, The New York Times reported Thursday.
In 3,500 pages of documents compiled in a lawsuit filed against the district last year, three Jewish families accuse at least 35 students of carrying out anti-Semitic acts, including beating Jewish students, telling jokes about the Holocaust and drawing swastikas on school property.
The families charge in the suit that school officials told them the incidents were isolated.
One student, while in seventh grade, said she and other students would report anti-Semitic graffiti and other behavior to a school administrator once a week. At one point, she said he told them, "we were now just looking for trouble and that we were causing our own problems."
In an e-mail to a parent who complained about the harassment, superintendent Philip G. Steinberg, who is himself Jewish, said: "I have said I will meet with your daughters and I will, but your expectations for changing inbred prejudice may be a bit unrealistic."
Steinberg said he and his staff followed up on reports of anti-Semitic behavior but were able to substantiate fewer than a dozen complaints about swastikas or other offensive acts.
Laura Wong-Pan, a lawyer for the district, said the district had taken many steps to address the "plaintiffs' complaints and deal with bullying in general." She said students had been disciplined in a way that was "reasonably calculated to prevent a recurrence," including counseling, suspensions and letters to parents.
She noted the district had brought in Holocaust survivors, as well as experts on bullying and anti-Semitism, to address school assemblies. Staff received specialized training.
During a September court hearing, Wong-Pan accused the complaining families of exaggerating the facts.
"I mean, the way they describe it, it sounds like it's the Third Reich in those schools," she said.
Susan Notar said the Jewish Federation in Orange County, where she is a volunteer, has received at least two complaints about anti-Semitic behavior in Pine Bush's Circleville Middle School since 2011. In one case, a student said he would dress as a Hasidic Jew for Halloween because "It was funny," and his brother said he would dress as Hitler. The school principal responded by inviting Notar to address the faculty, where she offered them resources on fighting intolerance.
After a second incident last spring, Notar was invited to speak to a student assembly two weeks ago.