Press Release

NYC Public School Guidance on Palestine Suppresses Speech Say Civil Rights Orgs

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NYCLU, AALDEF, and CAIR-NY demand NYCPS Chancellor Banks rescind misleading guidance that has led to routine censorship

NEW YORK, NY — Following reports from dozens of New York City Public School (NYCPS) teachers, students, and parents, the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-NY) sent a letter today to NYCPS Chancellor David Banks expressing concern over suppression of speech in support of Palestinians, and a lack of protections for Palestinian and Middle Eastern students and educators. 

The letter calls on NYCPS to rescind the guidance administered to principals by the Department of Education that has been misused to censor student speech through removals and restrictions of artwork, and to reprimand teachers for wearing apparel with images of watermelons, the Palestinian flag, and even olive trees.

The guidance cites Chancellor’s Regulation D-130, which instructs school staff to not wear or display items advocating political viewpoints, or express their political viewpoints on school grounds. This is misleading because D-130 only applies to expressions of support for electoral candidates or organizations working on behalf of candidates — not all expressions of political speech.

“NYCPS is systematically targeting and censoring speech in support of Palestinian rights, potentially violating the First Amendment rights of students and staff,” said Emma Hulse, Skadden Fellow at the NYCLU. “Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim students and educators are facing undue harassment, investigation, and discipline for expressing their political views — creating a harmful atmosphere where many young people and teachers no longer feel welcome in their own classrooms. As the leader of the nation’s largest and most diverse public school system, Chancellor Banks should be upholding core educational values of free expression, not chilling speech or disseminating policy that encourages censorship.”

“The environment at many New York City schools has become untenable for pro-Palestine activists and Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim students and teachers,” said Lamya Agarwala, Supervising Attorney at CAIR-NY. “Chancellor Banks has a responsibility to protect the true safety of students and teachers and ensure that no one is discriminated against because of their views on Palestine or who they are. We join our fellow civil rights partners in calling on Chancellor Banks to revisit his guidance to schools and call for an end to the unwarranted censorship and punishment.”

“We are troubled to see New York City schools continue the same pattern of unfair treatment towards students and teachers expressing support and sympathy for Palestinians that we have seen at schools and universities around the country over the past several months,” said Jane Shim, director of AALDEF’s Stop Asian Hate Project. “The discrimination against Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim, and South Asian people is reminiscent of the post 9/11 period, when these communities were unfairly subjected to government surveillance. Chancellor Banks has a responsibility to treat all students and teachers equally, regardless of who they are.”


For additional information, contact:

Stuart J. Sia