Christopher Probst, director of education at the Nassau County Holocaust...

Christopher Probst, director of education at the Nassau County Holocaust and Tolerance Center, teaches a visiting group of high school students on Oct. 26. Credit: Danielle Silverman

Recent reports of antisemitic and racist incidents have alarmed advocates and Long Island educators, who say more needs to be done to address disturbing behaviors by students.

“I have had school districts contact me, and they are at their wit’s end,” said Laura Harding, president of Syosset-based nonprofit ERASE Racism. “They followed all the DASA [Dignity for All Students Act] guidelines, [and] they found suspending students was not helpful. They are just not sure about what to do.”

There were at least five widely reported incidents of antisemitic behaviors and racist episodes within the first month and a half of the 2023-24 school year. District officials from Port Washington to Riverhead have had to address their communities about such instances, and educators are concerned that the culture will worsen as conflict continues to escalate in the Middle East.

School officials have said students faced consequences for their actions, but privacy laws prevent them from providing information about specific discipline.


  • Recent reports of antisemitic and racist incidents have alarmed advocates and educators across Long Island, who say more needs to be done to address these behaviors by students.
  • District officials from Port Washington to Riverhead have had to address their communities over incidents, and educators are concerned that the situation will worsen as conflict escalates in the Middle East.
  • Educators say a combination of social media and a polarized society have helped drive these incidents, ranging from racial slurs at sporting events to antisemitic graffiti.

Educators said a combination of social media and a polarized society have helped drive these incidents, which ranged from racial slurs at sporting events to antisemitic graffiti.

Christopher Probst, director of education of the Holocaust Memorial & Tolerance Center of Nassau County, said this has been an ongoing problem in Long Island schools.

"We're living in a cultural climate in which hateful, racist and antisemitic language, symbols and actions have moved from the fringes of society closer to the center," he said. "Another issue here that we need to remember is that without making any excuses for them, students at our elementary, middle and high school are young people. … They're still figuring out who they are.

"Another issue is the hours and hours of social media that many of them are consuming, some of which conveys hateful, racist messages and other harmful content. We have a recipe potentially for disaster," Probst added.

Districts seek help

Some school leaders have reached out to both ERASE Racism, a civil rights organization that uses research and advocacy to expose segregation in Long Island housing and education, and the Holocaust center for programming in their classrooms. Districts also are taking other steps to address what they see as increasing disrespect among students.

The Port Washington district has scheduled a community-wide meeting at its high school for Monday for a "Discussion on Anti-Semitism."

“Everything's so charged right now … so you have to make sure these kids have consequences that are appropriate, but we have to educate them as well, because I do think many kids are desensitized,” said Michael Hynes, Port Washington's superintendent.

In that Nassau County district, Hynes has had to address two incidents of antisemitism since the start of the school year, including one in recent weeks circulating on social media of students in an antisemitic pose. The district has disciplined students who were involved. Hynes said there were no arrests.

District officials have partnered with local rabbis and cantors, as well as the Holocaust center, which provides exhibit tours at its Glen Cove building, offers classroom visits from staff and can schedule testimonies from Holocaust survivors or second-generation survivors.

Port Washington plans to triple the amount of anti-bias programming at its high school and middle schools.

“The next step is we have to double down as far as educating our parents. We just can't do this in isolation," Hynes said. "This has to be a real partnership with what's taking place in the home and what's being said at home. … That's the hard part.”

Hate crimes on LI

These incidents come as hate crimes remain a pressing problem on Long Island. School-specific data was unavailable, but in 2022, Nassau had roughly 60 hate crimes reported, up from 28 the year before, according to preliminary data compiled by the state Division of Criminal Justice Services. In Suffolk, the number of hate crimes shifted slightly, moving from 28 in 2021 to 27 in the following year, the data showed.

Before the start of this school year, New York Attorney General Letitia James and state Education Commissioner Betty A. Rosa issued guidance reminding schools of their obligation to promote Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in educational planning and decision-making. The guidance included recommendations for addressing harassment and warned against actions that may contribute to a hostile environment for students of diverse backgrounds and identities.

The Bellmore-Merrick district has publicly apologized to the Elmont community twice within the past two years after incidents at home sporting events. The latest one was in September, when a student spectator at a John F. Kennedy High School girls volleyball game in Bellmore verbally taunted the Elmont team with a racial slur. Elmont Memorial High School is about 66% Black and 18% Latino. John F. Kennedy High School’s student body is about 83% white, state records showed.

Parent Lynette Battle, president of Elmont's Parent Teacher Student Association, said she has met with school and athletic leaders but has grown frustrated with a lack of progress.

"Students have been dealing with this mistreatment for years. Every incident produces a new 'sincere apology letter,' maybe a meeting to let everyone speak out," she said. “After that, what changes? … Everyone says they will work to change things and the incidents keep occurring.”

Sewanhaka superintendent Thomas Dolan said in a statement this week that the district's coaches attended the preseason Dignity for All Students Act workshop with their teams and will continue to do so throughout the remaining sports seasons. Elmont Memorial is part of the Sewanhaka district.

Kennedy is part of the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School district and the district's superintendent — Michael Harrington — said coaches, staff and leaders of athletics, music and the arts also have received enhanced training before the start of the school year.

Pat Pizzarelli, executive director of Section VIII, the governing body for public school sports in Nassau, said the group is changing protocol when racist or bias incidents happen between teams, starting this winter season. He also said the group is planning a Unity Day for later in the school year.

"We are going over and above," he said. "There is no place in our world for racial slurs or bias."

In a letter to the Levittown community in September, Superintendent Todd Winch said the district had undertaken an investigation into “derogatory, inappropriate and hateful language and images” in incidents involving students off school grounds. That investigation found that several students on the Division Avenue High School football team had scrawled what appeared to be racist and antisemitic graffiti in shaving cream on other students’ property off campus.

The superintendent has said that students involved would face appropriate consequences, and the district forfeited the high school's homecoming football game.

Winch said in a statement Friday that the district is addressing the recent situation as well as the rise in bias incidents nationwide through additional educational programming districtwide, including working with the Holocaust center.

Talk of a cultural shift

What needs to happen on Long Island, ERASE Racism's Harding said, is a cultural shift where students and staff are trained how to understand their biases and how to create a more inclusive culture. "It's not something that happens because you take an implicit bias workshop, all of a sudden, you're going to change the way they think," Harding said.

Complicating that goal, however, is the makeup of Long Island, where there are more than 100 school districts, with many lacking ethnic diversity, Harding said.

Several school districts have reached out to her group for support on how to implement and support a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion plan, she said.

"When you have knee-jerk reactions and everything is anti-bias, it still doesn't necessarily foster equity and inclusiveness," she said. "When you have an equity and inclusion focus, then your goal is to make sure that everyone, irrespective of race, gender, socio-economic status, sexual identity, ability … is able to feel welcome."

Officials in the Riverhead school district recently hired Emily Sanz as director of social and emotional learning, English as a new language, special programs and community outreach. The superintendent's conference day to be held Nov. 7 will focus on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, where community members will provide breakout sessions to support the theme for the day. The keynote address will be delivered by a DEI specialist from Eastern Suffolk BOCES, Interim Superintendent William Galati said.

There have been two disturbing incidents in the district since the start of school, including swastikas drawn on desks at the high school and students directing racial slurs at children at a high school football game. Riverhead school administrators met with local civic associations and with the town’s anti-bias task force to incorporate more "racial relations" programs into curriculum. They said students involved have been disciplined.

Galati's goal for when children graduate from the Riverhead system is that they have "learned how to collaborate with a diverse population of individuals, that they're able to problem-solve and think critically. We are educating them to be prepared for society."

A committee of the Nassau County Council of School Superintendents is aiming to educate children on these issues at a younger age. In current curriculum, the Holocaust does not get serious treatment until after sixth grade, Plainview-Old Bethpage Superintendent Mary O’Meara said.

She is co-chair of a committee with Vincent Randazzo, superintendent of Island Park schools, that is creating a free curriculum that includes addressing hate symbols, targeting young learners.

“What prompted this is we were finding a rise in antisemitic graffiti and [that] some of the students who were responsible were very young," O'Meara said. "We have young people who have drawn a swastika and know they have not had extensive instruction on that symbol.”

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