Due to an "alarming rise" in reports of antisemitic and Islamophobic incidents in schools since the Israel-Hamas war began, the U.S. Department of Education is warning schools of their duty to prevent and address discrimination against Jewish, Muslim, Arab, Israeli and Palestinian American students.
The department issued a Dear Colleague letter Tuesday pointing to schools' obligations under Title VI, which prohibits discrimination in programs receiving federal funding based on race, color or national origin, including shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics. Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon, who wrote the Dear Colleague letter, said the department is urging "school communities to be vigilant."
“The rise of reports of hate incidents on our college campuses in the wake of the Israel-Hamas conflict is deeply traumatic for students and should be alarming to all Americans," said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona in a statement released alongside the letter.
The Anti-Defamation League, a leading antisemitism advocacy organization, said last month that antisemitic incidents spiked significantly nationwide between Oct. 7 and Oct. 23, including a 388% increase in incidents of harassment, vandalism and assault year over year. More than half of the 312 antisemitic incidents recorded were directly linked to the Israel-Hamas war.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation's largest Muslim civil rights advocacy organization, said it recorded 774 complaints between Oct. 7 and Oct. 24. The organization said the increase is "the largest wave" since December 2015, after then-presidential-candidate Donald Trump said he intended to ban Muslims from entering the U.S.
There have also been incidents noted against Sikh Americans, who are often victims of Islamophobic sentiment. The Education Department said on Tuesday its call to prevent discrimination includes addressing incidents against those of or perceived to be of Jewish, Israeli, Muslim, Arab or Palestinian backgrounds.
This week's letter follows another issued in May, when the department said it had noted a rise in antisemitic incidents in schools.
The department noted in June — even prior to the latest Israel-Hamas war — that its Office for Civil Rights had received complaints of harassment and assault directed at Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and other students based on their shared ancestry or ethnicity.
The department also plans to propose regulatory changes in December to address harassment or discrimination based on shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics.