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State officials respond swiftly to anti-Semitism allegations in upstate district

Top state officials responded publicly and with distress today to a New York Times article detailing anti-Semitic incidents in the Pine Bush school district.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that the State Police and Division of Human Rights would investigate the allegations. He also wrote to State Education Commissioner John King asking for a full accounting of whether the state knew about the allegations and, if it did, what it had done — but the education department said the allegations were new to it, as well.

The article describes a lawsuit against the tiny upstate district by several families who say anti-Semitic speech and actions by some students were brushed off by school officials. The district’s Jewish superintendent until this summer, a transplant from New York City’s schools, said he did not think he could change “years of inbred hatred” among local students and questioned why Jewish families would move to an area with so much anti-Semitism.

“The alleged behavior is nothing that should ever be tolerated in our schools,” Cuomo wrote in his letter to King. He added, “I fully expect the State Department of Education 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.”

King’s office responded quickly. A top deputy, Elizabeth Berlin, wrote to Cuomo’s education secretary, De’Shawn Wright, to say that the entire department was “personally repulsed” by the report and would assist with the investigation.

Berlin also said King had directed the department to work with the New York Center for School Safety and the regional superintendent “to determine an immediate course of action to protect students.”

A spate of hate crimes in New York City led the district to ask all schools to hold one event late last year about bullying and bias. The Department of Education has held a “Respect for All” week, in which schools focus on tolerance, since 2009.

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