Reports of antisemitic harassment surge in schools
The Biden administration orders educators to respond
The U.S. Department of Education issued a letter late last month reminding schools of their responsibility under Title VI to address concerns about antisemitic discrimination.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, people reported 49 percent more incidents of antisemitic harassment at non-Jewish K-12 schools in 2022 than the year before. The group said college campuses saw a 41 percent increase.
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin. But experts say it can be hard to define antisemitic harassment, and state policies could differ. Both factors complicate schools’ responses to antisemitic discrimination.
“You can’t define what is racist through laws,” said Joe Cohn, a legislative and policy director for the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression.
The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance defines antisemitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews.”
According to the letter, the Department of Education expects schools to address discrimination that creates a “hostile environment.” In the letter, the department said that its Office for Civil Rights “generally finds that a hostile environment exists where there is harassing conduct that is sufficiently severe, pervasive, or persistent so as to interfere with or limit the ability of an individual to participate in or benefit from the services, activities, or privileges provided by a school.”
The department’s Office for Civil Rights will investigate complaints of antisemitic harassment—including slurs, stereotypes, and harassment for how individuals look, dress, or speak—and evaluate whether the schools in question meet Title VI requirements to address harassment concerns.
The department later announced that it will release proposed rules for schools responding to discrimination “based on [students’] shared ancestry or ethnicity.” The department said the rules will address concerns of antisemitic harassment toward Jewish students, but also protect Muslim and Hindu students as well as others. It plans to release the proposed rules in December.
Allon and Judith Friedman in Carmel, Ind., grew up Jewish. They sent their three sons to a Jewish school and then a public high school, and they say their sons didn’t experience antisemitic harassment. But they know that isn’t the case for all Jewish students. “I think a lot of people hate Jews not even knowing what the belief system is,” Judith said. “They just know they’re different.”
Allon applauds the IHRA’s description of antisemitism. He believes that it accepts penalties for criticizing Jews. But he thinks the Biden administration “stepped away” from the IHRA definition, and he worries it weakens the government’s position.
“We are living in an age that in many ways is post-religious,” he said. “I don’t think you are ever going to eradicate true hatred.”
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