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Education Department probes 7 schools over alleged antisemitism, Islamophobia

The Education Department on Thursday announced a new list of K-12 schools and colleges they’re investigating because of reported incidents of antisemitism and Islamophobia.

Seven schools are under investigation as of Nov. 16: Lafayette College, Cornell University, Columbia University, Wellesley College, University of Pennsylvania, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art and Kansas’ Maize Unified School District. Five of the complaints allege antisemitic harassment and two allege anti-Muslim harassment.

The investigations come as leaders of prominent Jewish organizations urged Biden administration officials to take an aggressive, proactive approach to addressing the incidents that have roiled college campuses since the Hamas attacks on Israel in October. Students have expressed being afraid to go to class for fear of harassment, and some schools have had incidents of physical violence.

“When students are targeted because they are — or are perceived to be — Jewish, Muslim, Arab, Sikh or any other ethnicity or shared ancestry, schools must act to ensure safe and inclusive educational environments where everyone is free to learn,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in a statement Thursday evening. “These investigations underscore how seriously the Biden-Harris Administration, including the U.S. Department of Education, takes our responsibility to protect students from hatred and discrimination.”

Biden administration officials have spent weeks meeting with Jewish and Muslim, Arab and Sikh leaders who say their communities have been feeling an unprecedented level of anxiety since the attacks. The Education Department this week said Muslim, Arab and Sikh leaders described an “extremely disturbing pattern of hate and threats of violence in schools and college campuses.”

The Education Department said it would continue updating its list of investigations weekly on the website for its Office for Civil Rights. However, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine Lhamon cautioned that just because a school is under investigation “does not reflect a conclusion that the law has been violated.”

All schools that receive federal funds must comply with Title VI, a federal law that bars discrimination based on shared ancestry, ethnic characteristics or national origin. Schools who violate the law could be at risk of losing their federal funding if they do not comply.

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