New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal and the Division on Civil Rights have issued a finding of probable cause against the Monmouth County Vocational School District over their alleged failure to properly address Anti-Semitic harassment of a Jewish student who transferred because of what transpired.
In a June 2018 complaint filed with DCR, a parent alleged 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 high school in Sandy Hook.In her complaint, the parent alleged that her daughter’s fellow students engaged in anti-Semitic harassment aimed at her daughter on a regular basis over the course of her three years at the school, including an April 2018 incident during which two male students wrote “I H8 JEWS” in large letters in the sand at a school-sponsored event, and then circulated a photo of one of them laying 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, including one suggesting the picture be used as the cover for the yearbook.
After the girl’s father notified school officials of the photograph and group messages, the complaint alleges, that the girl was harassed and derided as a “snitch” by her fellow students, was shunned during the school day and outside of school.DCR ran an investigation and found that MAST did investigate the beach photo incident and imposed four-day, out-of-school suspensions on the two students responsible.
The school also imposed a two-day suspension on the student who commented that the photo should be used as the yearbook cover.
The complaint filed by the girl’s mother also alleges that her daughter enrolled at MAST as a freshman and was subjected to a climate of anti-Semitism for three years before transferring out of the school for her senior year.
The mother’s complaint additionally alleges that 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 and 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.DCR said that they learned from the teacher 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.
Attorney General Grewal said that the Finding of Probable Cause states, aside from imposing discipline in connection with the beach photo incident, “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,” Grewal said. “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.”“Students have the right to attend school without being subjected to racial, religious, or other bias-based harassment. When a school is aware of a culture of prejudice and intolerance among students, it must address that culture head on, and not treat reported instances of harassment as isolated occurrences to be considered in a vacuum,” Division on Civil Rights Director Rachel Wainer Apter said. “The school must instead take steps to ensure that its students are not subjected to a hostile environment based on race, religion, sexual orientation, disability, gender identity or expression, or other protected characteristics.”
The beach 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,” the FPC notes, and by not undertaking such actions, the school may “have not acted reasonably” under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD).
A Finding of Probable Cause does not resolve a civil rights complaint.
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.