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Delaware K-12 school promises changes in response to federal probe of antisemitic bullying

The agreement followed a U.S. Department of Education investigation into how Red Clay Consolidated School handled a complaint from last June

(JTA) — A Delaware public school district will send staff to anti-harassment training and compensate the family of a Jewish student who alleged antisemitic bullying.

The agreement followed a U.S. Department of Education investigation into how Red Clay Consolidated School District handled allegations of antisemitic incidents, detailed in a complaint to the agency last June.

The agreement marks the first time in nine months that the education department announced the closure of an antisemitism-related investigation filed under Title VI, the clause of the Civil Rights Act that prohibits discrimination on the basis of “shared ancestry” or “national origin.”

It comes as the department embarks on a wave of antisemitism investigations at schools and colleges in the wake of the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, which has triggered widespread allegations of antisemitism on campuses. What happened in Red Clay, the department said, should be seen as a model for its work.

“This important agreement requires the Red Clay Consolidated District to fulfill its federal civil rights obligation to ensure that all of its students, including Jewish students, can learn safely and without discriminatory harassment in its schools,” Catherine Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights in the department, said in a statement announcing the resolution. “We look forward to active work with this district going forward to protect Jewish students, and all students, from targeted discrimination that impedes their equal access to education.”

The department said that a student in the district, which includes parts of Wilmington and its suburbs, was targeted by her classmates for being Jewish. Classmates had written “Blood of the Jews” and drawn swastikas on paper airplanes, and raised their arms in Heil Hitler salutes at the student.

The department’s Office of Civil Rights said it had further determined that the district’s responses to these incidents “were often haphazard; were inconsistently enforced as well as inconsistently reflected in district documentation; did not consistently include effective or timely steps to mitigate the effects of the harassment on the student or other students; and did not appear to respond to escalating and repeated incidents.” The department opened its investigation into the district in June 2023.

In response, Red Clay has agreed to implement new annual Title VI harassment training for its staff; publicize a new anti-harassment statement; conduct a new audit of past student discrimination complaints; revise its procedure for investigating such claims, and report back to the civil rights office with student climate surveys.

It will also reimburse the student’s family “for past counseling, academic, or therapeutic services they obtained for the student as a result of the antisemitic harassment the student experienced,” according to the department’s announcement.

The listed agreements do not include specific antisemitism-related training that some Jewish groups have pushed schools to adopt. They do include training to recognize discrimination based on “shared ancestry and ethnic characteristics,” the Title VI language.

“A recent Office of Civil Rights investigation has highlighted the need for a collective effort to address hate and discrimination, and we want to assure our community that we stand firmly against hate in all its forms, including antisemitism,” district superintendent Dorrell Green said in a statement to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Green’s statement added that the district would undertake a “comprehensive audit” and that it would encourage open dialogue with the community.

Jewish groups including the American Jewish Committee and the Orthodox Union praised the settlement agreement.

“This resolution from the Department of Education is an important step forward and contains numerous action steps that all schools can and should take to create and maintain a safe learning environment for Jewish students,” Ted Deutch, the head of AJC, said in a statement. “Discipline is not enough, and these steps crucially can create a safe, inclusive climate for learning.”

In his own statement, OU executive vice president Rabbi Moshe Hauer tied the resolution into the more than 50 Title VI investigations that have been opened since Oct. 7.

“Antisemitism has become a significant factor in the lives of Jewish students at universities and public schools,” Hauer said. “Schools must fulfill their responsibility under Title VI to maintain an environment where all students can study and thrive without experiencing hostility based on their shared ancestry or ethnicity.”

The department’s last resolution of an antisemitism investigation took place in April 2023, and involved the University of Vermont, which had agreed to take similar steps to address the problem on its campus. It has closed some investigations without publicizing them. Investigations remain ongoing in antisemitism-related cases at Columbia, Brown, the University of North Carolina and others. The Department of Education’s dockets list still-opened Title VI shared ancestry cases dating as far back as 2016.

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