Governor's Mention Of Discrimination Lawsuit In State Of State Draws Concern From School District

Jan 9, 2014

Remarks made by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in his 2014 State of the State address over alleged discrimination at a Hudson Valley school district is stirring controversy.

In his State of the State speech, Governor Cuomo mentioned a federal lawsuit reported in November in the New York Times involving Jewish families claiming their children had experienced numerous counts of anti-semitic discrimination at a high school in Pine Bush, NY.

"A few weeks ago, I found a situation that I actually found quite disturbing," said Cuomo in his address. "And there was an article in the newspaper about a high school in Pine Bush, New York."

Cuomo said details of the case remain troubling, and recounted contacting authorities including the State Education Department, the Division for Human Rights, and the New York State police, only to find authorities had no knowledge of the discrimination.

Following the publication of the article in November, the governor ordered an investigation by the State Police and the State Division of Human Rights into the allegations.

In his State of the State address, Governor Cuomo proposed legislation to ensure school officials report events of discrimination.

"I want to propose a very simple law that gets to the heart of who we are," said Cuomo. "If a school official in the state of New York is aware of a pattern of racial or religious discrimination or harassment, that state official is under an affirmative duty to notify the state education department or the police, or that state official is no longer a state official, because that is not who we are, and that's not how we perform."

But not all are applauding the governor’s announcement.

Superintendent of Pine Bush Central School District Joan Carbone said she was shocked to have heard Pine Bush mentioned by name in the address.

"We were shocked by his reference to Pine Bush in name in his State of the State address, specifically because these are allegations that have not been tried in court yet," said Carbone.

Carbone said she notified the governor’s office immediately after the governor’s unexpected mention of the school district, and wants to clarify that the acts of discrimination cited in the New York Times article by Cuomo in his address – including money being thrown at Jewish students - are allegations.

"The concerns are from our whole district, and educators, state representatives as a whole that we were referenced without having - based on allegations that have not been thoroughly investigated even by what Governor Cuomo recommended in an investigation in November," said Carbone. "There are concerns and many factors, so we just want to clarify the missed perceptions."

Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus also released a statement following the governor’s address saying:

“The Governor also raised the alarming situation at the Pine Bush School District, and I note that we share the goal of fighting religious intolerance while promoting the values Orange County truly stands for, values which I have consistently and vocally placed at the center of my administration.”

Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, a Democrat in the 101st district, said he supports the governor’s call for what he believes is a zero-tolerance for racial discrimination in schools.

“I don’t believe the governor was referring to the Pine Bush situation as one that would have called for the firing of any of the officials, but his point was that each of us has an affirmative obligation to act quickly, decisively, and completely in these acts of bigotry and bullying, and to that extent I believe his point was well taken.”

Cahill said he plans to meet with Carbone over the issue.

A request for comment to the governor’s office on the Pine Bush Central School District's concerns was not returned Thursday afternoon.