By MARIA DINZEO
Courthouse News Service Thursday– November 17, 2009
SACRAMENTO (CN) – After a high school principal and school board blew off a mother’s complaints that her son was subjected to “unbearable” anti-Semitic harassment, including having “burn, Jew, burn” scratched onto his locker, the school compounded the insults by staging a play called “Hitler Youth,” the family claims in Federal Court.
Molly Zysman says her 16-year-old son was mercilessly harassed by anti-Semitic slurs “from the very beginning of his tenure” at Amador High School. She claims the Amador County Unified School District “ignored and even fostered an educational environment that is hostile to a Jewish student,” did nothing to stop his tormentors.
Zysman says her son suffered “unbearable harassment” at school and the principal and the school board gave her the brush-off when she complained.
Zysman says the harassment began in August 2007 when “burn, Jew, burn” was etched into her son’s metal gym locker. He complained to school officials, but they refused to investigate and the words remained there well into the following school year. They also refused to investigate when someone urinated in the locker in November 2008, though Zysman and her husband complained repeatedly.
Zysman says her son was forced to endure racial taunts from classmates, from “Heil Hitler” salutes and shouts of “stupid Jew,” to offensive jokes such as “How many Jews can you fit in a Volkswagen? As many as you can burn and fit in the ashtray.”
When Zysman’s husband went to speak to Principal Alan Van Velzen about the latest round of anti-Semitism, Van Velzen allegedly replied that he “can only take care of one of your son’s crises at a time.”
Zysman says that by February 2009, the classmates were emboldened by the school’s refusal to act against them and began punching her son. The principal again refused to do anything, Zysman says, so she took her complaints to Superintendent Richard Glock, who also refused to take action.
She says Glock told her son had invited the harassment by “going around the school yelling ‘I’m a Jew,'” and accused her son of writing the racial slurs on his own locker.
Ralph Lee, one of Zysman’s attorneys, said in an interview that he was “shocked” by the allegations in the complaint.
“I never imagined something like this could be going on at this day and age,” Lee said. Lead attorney Etan Rosen “felt especially sympathetic, being Jewish and having a daughter in the school system,” Lee said.
In October this year, Amador High School sanctioned a performance of the play “Hitler Youth,” which the complaint describes as “objectively offensive to Jewish people, even above what was required by the script.”
Lee said he was not familiar with the play but that “many people were offended.”
Zysman says the school district dismissed her formal complaint on a technicality, claiming that she had not filed it within 20 days of the harassment.
Lee says that argument is “beside the point, since the harassment and discrimination was continuing.”
Lee says Zysman’s son was forced to leave school his sophomore year because of the harassment but returned for his junior year. But in November, a teacher allegedly joined Zysman’s persecutors by bringing up his parent’s lawsuit in class and announcing that the school would lose their football team as a result.
Zysman says her son was thrown out of class for confronting the teacher, and now “fears that he may be forced to drop out of Amador High and begin independent study with the district,” as he was compelled to do for his sophomore year.
But not everyone condoned the air of anti-Semitism at Amador. Lee said that Zysman has several teachers on his side.
“One even complained about the swastika being drawn on the locker and demanded it be taken down,” said Lee. “I don’t believe it was taken down.”
Zysman seeks punitive damages, and an order that the school be required to adopt a formal policy for investigating student complaints of racial discrimination.
The Zysmans are represented by Etan Rosen and Ralph Lee with Beyer, Pongratz and Rosen.