Only 14% of American Jews are Orthodox
Only 14% of American Jews are Orthodox Thinkstock

A New York State school district will pay nearly $4.5 million to five Jewish students and their lawyers, in settlement of a lawsuit alleging pervasive anti-Semitism in the schools.

The New York Times reports that officials of the Pine Bush Central School District were accused in the lawsuit by five former and current students of failing "for years" to act to protect them from anti-Semitic bullying, slurs and other intimidation.

One student left school and was home-schooled because of the anti-Semitism she suffered, while at least two others suffered the abuse in Pine Bush Elementary School, through Crispell Middle School, and finally at Pine Bush High School – all belonging to the Pine Bush district. The district is located about 75 miles north of New York City and slightly west of Poughkeepsie.

The school district has also agreed to enact broad reforms in curriculum and training. A third of the damages will go to the plaintiffs' lawyers. The suit, originally filed in 2012, alleged “deliberate indifference” by school officials in enabling the anti-Semitic harassment to persist across grade levels in three schools. 

The Times, whose reporting was instrumental in keeping the case in the news, reports that the students had told of finding swastikas drawn on walls, desks, lockers and other school property; of being subjected to epithets and nicknames; of being shoved and beaten; and of terrifying bus rides with students leading “white power” chants and making Nazi salutes. 

The agreement, which still must be approved by a judge, comes two weeks before the civil rights case was to go to trial in a U.S. District Court.

In November, the ruling judge denied a motion to dismiss the suit in the case of three plaintiffs. The judge wrote of “uncontested facts” supporting the plaintiffs, and said that a jury could reasonably find that they had “suffered severe and discriminatory harassment, that the district had actual knowledge of the harassment, and that the district was deliberately indifferent to the harassment.”