Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin and Sundeep Iyer, Director of the Division on Civil Rights, have issued the statement below in response to the recent rise in antisemitism and Islamophobia in K-12 schools and on college and university campuses:
In the wake of the terrorist attacks on Israel on October 7 and Israel’s military response in Gaza and the West Bank, there has been a marked increase in bias targeting Jewish and Muslim community members in K-12 schools and on college and university campuses across our state. The rise in bias in our schools threatens the safe educational environment to which all our students are entitled.
Now more than ever, it is critical that our educational institutions respond immediately—and in a manner consistent with their legal obligations—when bias incidents occur. The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) protects all students, including our Jewish, Israeli, Arab, Muslim, and Palestinian students, from discrimination or harassment based on actual or perceived race, national origin, religion, or other protected characteristics. It also requires K-12 schools, colleges, and universities to proactively address and respond to harassment, including peer-on-peer harassment. Where peer-to-peer, bias-based harassment is sufficiently severe or pervasive that it creates an intimidating or hostile school environment, the school must take immediate action to address the harassment. Ultimately, if a school knew or should have known of the harassment but did not take action reasonably calculated to end the harassment and prevent it from reoccurring, the school may violate the LAD. Other laws, including Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and New Jersey’s Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act, also require schools to respond promptly to bias-based harassment and other bias incidents at school.
To be clear, nothing in our laws prohibit schools and educators from continuing to facilitate age-appropriate dialogue and conversations that are rooted in accurate information and that avoid stereotypes, hateful slogans, or tropes that may fuel antisemitism, Islamophobia, or other forms of bias. But make no mistake: where bias-based harassment, bullying, or other bias incidents occur in school, it is incumbent on our schools to promptly address the harassment and make clear in unequivocal terms to members of the school community that they denounce bias-based conduct.
To assist educational institutions in identifying best practices for preventing bias and responding when bias occurs, the Department of Education and Division on Civil Rights have issued guidance for K-12 schools, and the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education and Division on Civil Rights have issued guidance for colleges and universities. We strongly encourage all educational institutions to review the guidance carefully.
We strongly encourage students, staff, community members and others to report evidence of discrimination or bias-based harassment to DCR immediately. To find out more or to file a complaint, please go to NJCivilRights.gov or call 1.833.NJDCR4U. DCR enforces the LAD, which protects all people from discrimination in New Jersey. No one can retaliate against you for reporting LAD violations, filing a discrimination complaint, or exercising other rights under the LAD.