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Antisemitic harassment of Jewish students leads to federal complaint against Berkeley Unified

Berkeley Unified targeted with federal complaint over antisemitic harassment of Jewish students
Berkeley Unified targeted with federal complaint over antisemitic harassment of Jewish students 02:51

The Anti-Defamation League has filed a federal complaint against the Berkeley Unified School District, alleging officials ignored the bullying and harassment of their Jewish students.

The harassment has led some families to decide to move out of the district. The mother of one student talked to CBS News Bay Area about the treatment her daughter received and the district's inaction.

"I'm sorry that we even have to be having this conversation," said parent Chiara Juster. "This is not about politics at all. This is about a school district that's failing to keep their children safe."

For Juster, the complaint filed against Berkeley Unified is very personal. She says her daughter experienced the alleged episodes of antisemitic bullying that led her to pull her child out of the district.

"What drove me to leave the district was a pervasive bullying, as well as an antisemitism," Juster explained. "And the inability of the district to educate my child while keeping her safe."

"One of the more upsetting stories to me was the story of second graders, whose teacher had them write on Post-it notes, 'Stop bombing babies' and things like that," said Rachel Lerman, the Senior Counsel at the Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under the Law. "They were then told to put them on the door of the only Jewish teacher in the school."

The Brandeis Center filed the complaint in partnership with the Anti-Defamation League. She says numerous complaints have come from parents at Bay Area school districts.

"We're not looking for money damages," Lerman explained. "We're looking for them to sit down at the table with us -- if the Office of Civil Rights decides this is the right case for mediation -- and talk about how to change what is happening at the schools because they are under legal obligation to prevent bias and discrimination."

The school district responded with a statement that said, in part: "We acknowledge the difficult moment we are in and the pain some members of our community are experiencing due to the ongoing crisis in Israel and Gaza. The district continuously encourages students and families to report any incidents of bullying or hate-motivated behavior."

"If this were any other minority group," Juster said. "This would not be happening."

Juster says she blames district administration for failing to respond to parents' concerns early on, before things escalated to this point. 

"What I hope comes from the complaint is that no student, no child, ever, feels ashamed, simply for being born," she said. "Simply for being born a particular ethnicity."

The district says it has not yet received official notification of the complaint, and says it will work with the Office of Civil Rights in support of a thorough investigation.

Berkeley is not the only East Bay community to be impacted by such tensions.

The war between Israel and Hamas has also sparked conflict in the Oakland Unified School District, enough that at least 30 Jewish families have transferred their kids out of the district.

In January, CBS News Bay Area confirmed the exodus of Jewish families stemmed from a string of actions by the Oakland teachers' union and the district itself that many say resulted in antisemitism and created a hostile environment for their students.

In the weeks following the October 7th attacks by Hamas on Israel, and Israel's subsequent ground invasion of Gaza, a group of unidentified OUSD teachers held a "teach-in" highlighting pro-Palestinian lessons.

The teach-in, which was not carried out by all OUSD teachers and was not sanctioned by the district, triggered responses from the district and the teacher's union that some Jewish parents said wasn't enough to protect their children from antisemitic tropes.

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