PINE BUSH – A case regarding alleged anti-Semitic bullying of Jewish children in Pine Bush Schools, which was first brought forth in March this year via New York Southern District Court in White Plains, has received a December 6 ruling from a Federal Judge that retiring district superintendent of schools Phil Steinberg, as well as former Pine Bush Elementary Principal Steve Fisch, and former Crispell Middle School Assistant Principals Eric Winter and Robert Peters, may be sued for failing to protect five current and former students from anti-Semitic bullying.
Lead counsel for the plaintiffs, Michael Meth of Meth Law Office, P.C. in Chester, said, "There is something seriously wrong in the Pine Bush Central School District and district officials know it. School and district officials entrusted with the safety of our children have abdicated their moral and legal responsibilities to take action to stop the severe anti-Semitic bullying suffered by these students."
Alleged incidents included the drawing of Nazi swastikas on school books, on walls in several hallways and bathrooms, on playground equipment, and even on a Jewish student's face, against her will. Also alleged were threats to burn Jewish students, physical violence that included the beating of a student with a hockey stick, and such name calling as "dirty disgusting Jew," "Christ killer, "Jesus hater" "Ashes" and "Crispy." The last two are references to the Holocaust.
The case has been joined by Public Justice, a national organization of lawyers.
"Bullying has reached epidemic proportions and has to stop," said Public Justice Managing Attorney Adele Kimmel, co-counsel for the plaintiffs. "Public Justice joined this case because it is a striking example of the failure of school districts across our country to prevent and respond appropriately to bullying... The law requires schools to protect students from bullying and we intend to make sure that they do."
Forty six states in the US have now adopted such laws; however, 50 percent of educators report having received no training in the matter, and 83 percent of students bullied report receiving no intervention or assistance by school officials.
The case was brought forth by Pine Bush resident Sherri Eccleston. A memorandum in opposition to Eccleston's case was filed on behalf of the school district and its officials on October 16 of this year. Afterwards, Meth and Public Justice filed a reply brief in early November.
According to a press release on the Public Justice website, sent out nationally, the Pine Bush School District has argued that district and school officials could not be held personally liable because they did not participate in the bullying. Second Circuit Court Magistrate Judge Paul E. Davison, however, allowed the case to proceed, against the defense's arguments, based on his legal findings that "deliberate indifference" is a serious crime.
The case references incidents from September 2005 through June 2009, and at Pine Bush Elementary School from September 2009 through January 2012. They involved 1,983 claims starting with fifth graders drawing swastikas in notebooks to numerous incidents on school buses involving mentions of white power and threatening behavior.
In addition to damages for the students' suffering, the suit seeks a change in behavior from top to bottom within the PBSD administrative hierarchy, including staff and student body, that stresses training and education programs aimed to curb bullying and establish procedures for properly handling any future incidents.
Steinberg, named as a defendant in the case, said, "I cannot comment on the case as it is in the courts. But I can say they are trying this in public rather than on the merits of the case. The allegations are baseless and our attorneys are confident that we will prevail."
Steinberg and Fisch are both Jewish.
No court date for Eccleston's suit, which includes testimony from several other families, and at least five present and former PBSD students, has been set yet, pending depositions and discovery meetings for both the plaintiff and defendants.