School Failed To Step In When Jewish Student Was Harassed

The Kyrene school district violated civil rights laws by failing to step in when a Jewish student was being harassed.

By Erika Hanson | Published

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Kyrene school district

Harassment and bullying are serious concerns in schools. Many believe that the radical push for social justice throughout the United States stems from overt increases in hate rhetoric targeting certain groups. The Jewish community is no stranger to persecution. In Arizona’s Kyrene school district near Tempe, a school was recently charged by the Feds for failing to step in and help a Jewish student who was being harassed. 

According to reports from  AZ Family, the U.S. Department of Education found the Kyrene School District in violation of the Civil Rights Act. An eight grade Altadena Middle school student was harassed for her Jewish heritage for months both online and in school, with school officials knowing what was going on. Failing to act swiftly and deter the bullying, it is said to be part of a growing issue in the southwest state, where anti-Semitic incidents have increased 155% over the past two years.

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) reported that nine Kyrene school district students bullied the young girl for at least a five-month time span. Oftentimes, they would make jokes to her about the Holocaust. Some called her anti-Semitic names. One detailed occurrence depicted a sexually charged statement made towards her, which also referred to her Jewish heritage.

While Kyrene school district officials did eventually take measures to address the harassment, the OCR ruled that it was too little too late. According to their reports, school leaders knew that anti-Semitic harassment was happening for several months before they took any measures to stop it from happening. When the district did take action, they noted that they held the responsible students accountable for their part in the bullying. Likewise, the school board approved an extensive diversity, equity, and inclusion policy. 

Late efforts to act meant that the middle schooler suffered more than she may have had to if the school acted swiftly against her tormentors. Her grades fell, and the incidents left her emotionally traumatized and scarred. In an effort to make amends, the Kyrene school district is now offering her free tutoring, 10 hours of career counseling or college guidance, and reimbursement for any medical services her family may have accrued due to the trauma from harassment. 

What’s more, there is controversy over the Kyrene school district’s decision to shuffle around the middle school principal who knew of the bullying and failed to address it in a timely manner. Altadena Middle School principal, James Martin, now is assigned to nearby Centennial Middle School. While the district is adamant that this move had nothing to do with the anti-Semitic harassment case, some are skeptical.

kyrene school district

According to her reports, Kyrene school district Superintendent Laura Toenjes alleged that she had no idea that the school was aware of the incidents involving a Jewish student being harassed. Being Jewish herself, she let out a statement expressing a personal connection to the report. “As a person of Jewish faith, I was deeply affected by this investigation. I will work very closely with our Board to ensure every student of every faith, every race, and every background feels safe, valued, and respected inside our schools,” she said.

Bullying has been on the rise for decades. It remains constant in schools and has been exacerbated by social media. For students of Jewish faith, it is a serious concern. A report from ADL last year found that one-third of all Jewish students experience antisemitism. Cases like this one in the Kyrene school district are just one of the many reasons why schools all across the nation are implementing extensive policies to preach non-discrimination and anti-hate stances.