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Increase in Federal Civil Rights Complaints due to Reports of Campus Antisemitism and Islamophobia
After receiving numerous reports of increased antisemitism and Islamophobia in schools and colleges during the Israel-Hamas war, a high-ranking official from the Education Department has revealed that the agency is dealing with a significant surge in civil rights complaints. This surge has prompted a corresponding increase in federal investigations.
Since Hamas terrorists attacked Israel on October 7th, followed by the Israeli military’s bombing and invasion of Gaza, the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights has launched 29 investigations into schools and colleges regarding their handling of discrimination complaints based on shared ancestry, such as antisemitism and Islamophobia.
The official stated that out of the 29 ongoing investigations, 19 are examining conduct that occurred within the past two months. Among the incidents that are currently under investigation since October 7th, 17 took place on college campuses.
Comparatively, in the previous fiscal year, the office only opened 28 shared ancestry investigations over the course of 12 months. The year before that, there were merely 15 investigations of this nature. These investigations aim to determine if schools are adequately addressing incidents that create hostile learning environments, which would be in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, a law that prohibits discrimination based on race, ethnicity, or national origin.
Catherine Lhamon, the assistant secretary for civil rights at the Education Department, expressed deep concerns about the reported incidents occurring in schools nationwide. Lhamon emphasized the importance of student safety and the protection of non-discrimination rights in both P-12 schools and higher education institutions.
While officials refrained from providing specific details about active federal investigations, there has been a notable increase in reported incidents of antisemitism and Islamophobia in and outside of schools. These incidents have raised concerns about student safety.
Examples include a clash between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel protesters near Tulane University in Louisiana that turned violent, a hit-and-run incident under investigation as a potential hate crime targeting an Arab Muslim student at Stanford University, the suspension of Rutgers University’s “Students for Justice in Palestine” chapter due to disruptions and campus vandalization, and a rabbi at Harvard University being instructed to hide the campus menorah out of fear of vandalism.
Furthermore, a college professor in California has been charged with involuntary manslaughter and battery following a physical altercation at a demonstration that resulted in the death of a Jewish protester.
Outside of educational institutions, there have been incidents such as the stabbing of a 6-year-old Muslim boy and his mother in Chicago, allegedly carried out by their landlord in an anti-Muslim attack, and the shooting of three college students of Palestinian descent in Burlington, Vermont.
These escalating incidents have placed school leaders in a difficult position, as they face criticism for not taking stronger action against hate speech and discrimination. A recent House committee hearing in Washington highlighted the issue of rising antisemitism on college campuses, and the presidents of the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology faced criticism for their responses to questions regarding the schools’ code of conduct and the issue of calling for the “genocide of Jews.”
Amid these concerns, the Education Department has opened 29 active federal investigations since October 7th, with eight focused on incidents in K-12 schools, including three of the largest school districts: New York City Department of Education, Clark County School District in Las Vegas, Hillsborough County Schools in Tampa, and Cobb County School District in suburban Atlanta.