newsSchools & Higher Education

Four new federal Title VI probes announced, of two schools, two districts

The U.S. Department of Education is investigating California and New Jersey school districts and universities in Hawai‘i and California.

U.S. Department of Education. Credit: DC Stock Photography/Shutterstock.
U.S. Department of Education. Credit: DC Stock Photography/Shutterstock.

The U.S. Department of Education announced four new Title VI investigations on Tuesday of the South Orange-Maplewood School District (N.J.), University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa (Honolulu), Western University of Health Sciences (Pomona, Calif.) and Roseville City School District in California.

The department’s Office for Civil Rights, which announces its new open investigations weekly on Tuesdays, doesn’t state the specific reason for the investigations nor does it post the complaints. It does say the probes are for alleged “discrimination involving shared ancestry,” which includes antisemitism, under the 1964 Civil Rights Law.

The South Orange and Maplewood district serves more than 7,200 students in 10 schools, according to its website. On Jan. 4, the district launched a “Renewal & Reset” initiative designed to target biased speech and graffiti. “The graffiti on the walls has to stop. We know that there is too much hate in the world,” Luisa Iuliano-Cabrera, assistant principal of Columbia High School, stated at the time. “We want to be mutually supportive of each other. Be kind to each other and be kind to
yourselves.”

The district added on Jan. 4 that “last month, antisemitic graffiti was found in a restroom at the high school.”

Kevin Gilbert, acting superintendent of schools, and Kaitlin Wittleder, South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education president “issued a joint letter condemning antisemitism, Islamophobia as well as ‘sexism, transphobia, xenophobia, anti-Asian hate and hatred of any kind,'” it said.

The Roseville City School District, whose 21 schools serve more than 12,000 students in preschool through eighth grade, was founded in 1869. In October 2022, a text thread between Buljan Middle School students reportedly contained “hateful, racist and discriminatory speech.” (Buljan is part of the district.)

The oldest and largest of the 10 University of Hawaiʻi campuses, the 320-acre one in Mānoa, which was established in 1907, serves 19,074 students (14,198 of them undergraduates). On Nov. 16, the president of the University of Hawaiʻi released a statement declining to condemn either Hamas’s terror attack on Oct. 7 or Israel’s response. “I am not a professional politician or an international political influencer,” he stated.

Western University of Health Sciences, which has 3,625 students and 482 faculty members across eight colleges, was founded in 1977.

JNS sought comment from the two districts and the two universities.

“The Roseville City School District was made aware of the Title VI investigation in question yesterday,” a spokesperson for the district told JNS. “We will thoroughly investigate and respond to OCR within the required timeline.”

The district said it “is dedicated to providing a safe school environment that allows all students equal access to and opportunities in the district’s academic, extracurricular and other educational support programs, services and activities.”

“We prohibit, at any district school or school activity, unlawful discrimination,” said Jessica Hull, executive director of communication and community engagement at Roseville City School District. “Any complaint alleging unlawful discrimination, including discriminatory harassment, intimidation or bullying, is investigated and prompt action taken to stop the discrimination, prevent recurrence and address any continuing effect on students.”

She also noted that the current investigation is not about the Buljan Middle School October 2022 incident. “At this time, we are only able to share the general subject is a student suspension and subsequent complaint,” she said.

In response to a query, Dan Meisenzahl, director of communications at the University of Hawai‘i, wrote back to both JNS and JTA in the same email.

“Do you have a copy of the complaint?” he asked. He added that the university “takes any report of discrimination and/or harassment of students and/or employees very seriously.”

“Since the start of the Israeli/Hamas war, a number of messages from leadership have been sent to the 10 campus system affirming UH commitment of non-discrimination and asking everyone to report any incidents of harassment and discrimination,” he wrote.

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