Two local teachers have filed a federal lawsuit against the Edison Elementary School District.
ABC 23 has obtained the lawsuit that contains dozens of pages describing religious discrimination toward two Jewish teachers by their colleagues and former principal. It's discrimination they and parents to whom ABC 23 spoke said should not exist in today's society.
"Our beliefs are our beliefs, and I don't think anybody should be discriminated against that at all," said one parent who did not provide a name.
Jean Bornstein and Rabbi Bruce Neal have filed a federal lawsuit against the Edison School District claiming that for a total of nearly 30 years, they've been subjected to religious discrimination and harassment.
"They have been singled out as Jewish teachers. They were shunned, excluded, treated like non-persons because they're Jewish," said Alan Reinach, a lawyer for Neal and Bornstein.
Reinach spoke to ABC 23 on Neal and Bornstein's behalf. Both teach at Orangewood Elementary, where, according to the lawsuit, several teachers and former Principal Mark Holmes have ridiculed and retaliated against the two for being Jewish. Neal and Bornstein were allegedly criticized for their kosher diet, religious clothing, and observance of Jewish holidays. Jewish tradition requires men to keep their heads covered. Neal was forced to remove his yarmulke. Both also claim they were denied positions and promotions because of their faith.
"We want a safe school environment for Mrs. Bornstein and Dr. Neal to continue teaching and for them to be treated with dignity as they deserve to be," said Reinach.
But they're not just fighting for themselves. The lawsuit also claims teachers discriminated against students. Muslim students fasting for Ramadan were allegedly forced to go through the lunch line and remain in the lunch room while other students ate. Another allegation is racial. Bornstein claims she complained to a teacher after noticing migrant education students were not receiving the same ice cream treats as other students. That teacher reportedly replied: "These migrant children should be grateful for whatever they get."
"It definitely upsets me. I have two boys that go to this school, and I think everybody should be treated equally," said an unidentified Orangewood Elementary parent. "Everybody has equal rights and so I definitely think that's wrong,(comma) and um, I definitely agree with teachers that are filing this lawsuit," said another parent.
Mark Holmes and other teachers have received notices of unprofessional conduct stating their behavior was immoral and unprofessional, but Reinach said that's not enough and hopes this lawsuit will teach them a valuable lesson.
"We need to treat everyone with respect and to be open to cultural, social, and religious differences of people in our midst, not just discard them because they're different," said Reinach.
ABC 23 contacted the Edison School District and Mark Holmes, who declined to comment. Bornstein and Neal said they are seeking punitive damages for economic lossees suffered from humiliation and mental anguish that has resulted in post-traumatic stress disorder for Neal and disability leave for Bornstein.
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