Here's the text of the letter Cuomo sent to SED:
Dear Commissioner King,
I write to express my serious concern with reports of anti-Semitic harassment including physical attacks at Pine Bush Central School District.
The alleged behavior is nothing that should ever be tolerated in our schools: swastikas drawn on school property remaining for “weeks or months,” anti-Semitic slurs and caustic Holocaust jokes directed at Jewish students – at times with school faculty present – and physical attacks including a Jewish student being beaten with a hockey stick and another having a swastika forcibly drawn on her face. As recently as last year, three of the students’ families filed suit in court.
Today I directed the State Police and the Division of Human Rights to investigate the alleged acts of anti-Semitism. I fully expect the State Department of Education (SED) to be forthcoming to parents across New York State regarding the Department’s knowledge of these reprehensible acts and what, if any, steps have been taken to ensure Pine Bush students of Jewish origin can attend their school without being subject to anti-Semitic attacks.
If these reports are true, I would like to know what, if anything, SED knew about this situation and if you or your department was aware, when you became aware, and what SED has done to investigate and/or address the situation.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo
Here is SED's response:
Dear Deputy Secretary De’Shawn Wright:
We share the Governor’s revulsion at the reports of heinous anti—Semitic acts at the Pine Bush Central School District.
The State Education Department only today became aware of the deeply distressing allegations of anti-Semitic harassment and physical attacks at the Pine Bush Central School District. No reports or filings have been made to the Department regarding these depraved and despicable behaviors.
Upon learning of the allegations earlier today through published news reports, Commissioner King directed the Department to begin working with the New York State Center for School Safety and the Orange—Ulster BOCES District Superintendent to determine an immediate course of action to protect students and ensure that all students can attend Pine Bush without fear of harassment or physical attack.
We will coordinate our efforts with the State Police and the Division for Human Rights and offer whatever assistance we can provide.
School should be a place of safety and learning, not a haven for vile and despicable acts of hatred. Commissioner King and the entire Department are personally repulsed by these allegations and we will do everything in our power to ensure the safety and well-being of Pine Bush students of Jewish origin. Racism and anti-Semitism have no place anywhere in our society; it’s especially disturbing that children have to face this abuse in the classroom.
Commissioner King will continue to monitor the situation at the Pine Bush Schools and inform the public as to our findings and actions.
Elizabeth R. Berlin
Executive Deputy Commissioner
NYS Education Department
Now I tend to believe SED officials when they say they had no idea these anti-Semitic incidents/crimes were taking place in the Pine Bush Central School District.
Seriously, with all the work they are doing on Common Core implementation, test development, curriculum module creation, teacher evaluation coordination, and public relations pushback on opponents and critics of their education reform agenda, where would they get the time to learn about multiple incidents of anti-Semitic harassment, bullying and violence in a school district they oversee?
I mean, there's only so much time in the day for what SED officials can do and ensuring school districts are creating inclusive, welcoming schools for all students and their families is not high on SED's priority list.
What is high on SED's list - particularly Commissioner John King's list - is showing school districts, schools, administrators, teachers and students that the only things that matter to SED officials are the accountability measures they have put into place to hold everybody under the SED functionary level accountable for student, teacher, school and district performance.
So while Cuomo seems to insinuate that SED may have known - or should have known - about these alleged Pine Bush incidents and crimes, I get why they may not have known about them until yesterday.
I also believe that Sheriff Andy Cuomo had no idea these incidents/crimes were going on in Pine Bush Central School District - again, given all the other stuff Cuomo has been engaged in, including on education issues, how could he possibly know?
Why, it was just a few months ago that SED Commissioner King was playing bad cop to Sheriff Andy Cuomo's even worse cop as the two were talking about giving the "death penalty" to "failing" schools or "failing" districts like Buffalo.
When the people in charge in the governor's office and at the State Education Department are totally focused on academic measures, state test scores, teacher evaluations and school report cards so that they can use this data to scapegoat teachers and administrators, close schools and have state takeovers of whole "failing" school districts, it's really hard to spend any time working with districts to ensure that all schools in the state are welcoming and inclusive to all students and their families.
So let me be the first to defend Commissioner King and his merry men and women in reform at the State Education Department.
It's not their fault that students and their families in Pine Bush Central School District were subjected to horrific acts of harassment, bullying, and emotional and physical violence - they were too busy perpetrating their untested and unwanted education reform agenda on the state and defending it from students, parents and teachers.
They were too busy rigging the Common Core tests so that cut scores plummeted to 30% proficiency, too busy tying the teacher evaluation systems around the state to those scores so that districts could use the scores to declare teachers "ineffective" and fire them, too busy using those scores to declare schools and even whole districts "failing" and warn that a state takeover of both was coming.
There's no time to worry about such niceties like inclusiveness and safety from bigoted acts of emotional or physical violence when you have a big education reform accountability project to run.
So I can answer Sheriff Andy Cuomo's CYA letter to SED over the Pine Bush incidents/crimes.
I don't think John King and SED officials had any more idea they were going on than Cuomo and his people did.
They were too busy bullying others in promoting their self-interested agenda to notice that their might be bullying, harassment and worse going on somewhere in the state public education system they oversee.