Actions Undertaken by the U.S. Department of Education Since the October 7, 2023 Hamas Attacks in Israel

Since October 7, following the Hamas attacks in Israel and subsequent Israel-Hamas conflict, the U.S. Department of Education (Department) has taken a series of actions to address the extremely disturbing reports of discrimination, including harassment, hate and threats of violence in schools and college campuses nationwide. Specifically:

  • Secretary Miguel Cardona, Deputy Secretary Cindy Marten, and other leaders from the Biden-Harris Administration have engaged in a series of listening sessions and meetings with educators and administrators as well as students and community leaders from Jewish, Israeli, Arab, Muslim, and other impacted communities.
  • The Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has engaged in aggressive enforcement of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to protect students from discrimination, including harassment, because of their race, color, or national origin, including students who are or are perceived to be Jewish, Muslim, Israeli, Arab, or Palestinian.
  • The Department’s Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships (CFBNP), located within the Office of the Secretary, as well as its Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE), Office for Postsecondary Education (OPE), and others have engaged in efforts to ensure schools and college campuses have the tools they need to foster safe, supportive, welcoming learning environments for students at all grade levels.

Additionally, Secretary Cardona and other Biden-Harris Administration officials have been outspoken, at site visits, in public remarks, on social media, and on numerous media outlets, that hate and discrimination will not be tolerated in our nation’s schools on our watch.

“Hate has no place in our schools, period,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. “When students are targeted because they are—or are perceived to be—Jewish, Muslim, Arab, Sikh, or any other ethnicity or shared ancestry, schools must act to ensure safe and inclusive educational environments where everyone is free to learn.”

In May 2023, President Biden announced the historic U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism. This whole-of-government approach represents the most comprehensive and ambitious U.S. government effort to counter antisemitism in American history. The White House also announced in November that the Biden-Harris Administration will develop the first-ever U.S. National Strategy to Counter Islamophobia.

The following are a series of actions undertaken by the Department. (Last updated 1/25/2024)

Secretary Miguel Cardona, joined by White House Domestic Policy Council Director Neera Tanden and Towson University President Mark Ginsberg, met with Jewish students from Baltimore area colleges and universities to discuss their experiences of antisemitism, as part of the Department’s ongoing Antisemitism Awareness Campaign.

Engagements with Impacted Communities

Hate or discrimination has no place in our nation’s classrooms or college campuses. But in the wake of the October 7 Hamas attacks in Israel, many Jewish, Muslim, Israeli, Arab, and Palestinian students report that they feel unsafe at school or unfairly targeted simply because of who they are. And as a community member told us, “Our students can’t learn when they’re afraid.”    

The October 7 attacks occurred during the Department’s Antisemitism Awareness Campaign, adding new urgency and intensity to ongoing efforts. Among other actions under this campaign, senior administration officials conducted site visits to PreK-12 schools and institutions of higher education in order to hold listening sessions with Jewish students and to share notable examples of actions that students, communities, educators, and administrators are taking to prevent and address antisemitism and promote inclusion of all students.

  • Deputy Secretary Cindy Marten by traveling to the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco to engage with students, educators, school administrators, and community leaders about countering antisemitism through education. She facilitated a roundtable discussion with school district leaders and Jewish community leaders from across the Bay Area on how antisemitism is impacting PK-12 students and what policies, initiatives, and practices help foster more inclusive learning environments for students of all religious, secular, and spiritual backgrounds. As part of that same visit, Katy Joseph, CFBNP Deputy Director joined San Francisco Hillel for a closed-door conversation with Jewish students from the Bay Area.
  • On October 24, CFBNP Deputy Director Katy Joseph and Matt Nosanchuk, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, visited St. Louis, MO, to spotlight the role of peer-to-peer initiatives that counter antisemitism through education and shared interfaith experiences. They visited Affton High School to observe and spotlight a presentation through Student-to-Student, a national initiative that brings together Jewish and non-Jewish high school students to learn about Jewish culture and traditions through personal storytelling.
  • On the same day, CFBNP Director Maggie Siddiqi, traveled together with Samantha Joseph, Director of the CFBNP at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to Waterville, ME to visit Colby College’s Small Town Center for Jewish Life. There they learned about how Colby is supporting Jewish community members on and off campus, engaging in rural, cross-community partnerships, and supporting rural Jewish institutions across the country.
  • On October 31, in New York, NY, the Department joined the United Jewish Appeal (UJA) – Federation of New York for a convening of over 100 federal, state, city, and community leaders on countering antisemitism and fostering inclusive learning environments for all K-12 students. Biden-Harris Administration representatives included Shelley Greenspan, White House Liaison to the American Jewish Community; Roberto Rodriguez, Assistant Secretary of the Department’s Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development; CFBNP Deputy Director Katy Joseph; and Kalila Winters, Senior Advisor to Secretary Cardona. Representatives from New York Governor Kathy Hochul’s office, NYC Education Commissioner David Banks, and local educators were also among the convening participants. As part of that same visit, Senior Advisor Winters and Deputy Director Joseph also visited Yeshiva University to discuss campus safety considerations for the only Orthodox Jewish institution of higher education in the country.
  • On November 2, Secretary Cardona and White House Domestic Policy Advisor Neera Tanden visited the Baltimore Hebrew Institute at Towson University for a roundtable discussion with Jewish students from several Baltimore-area universities to hear their concerns about antisemitism on campus.

In addition to these site visits, Secretary Cardona, Deputy Secretary Marten, and other senior Department officials have conducted numerous meetings and listening sessions to better understand concerns about rising hate since October 7 and recommendations for fostering safe and supportive learning environments for all students.

  • In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships engaged wide variety of community stakeholders to understand how the Israel-Hamas conflict was impacting Muslim, Arab, Palestinian, and Sikh PK-12 and higher education students. These included a series of one-on-one meetings with organizational leaders, faculty, and staff and confidential listening sessions with undergraduate and graduate students from public and private institutions across the country 
  • For example, on October 30, the Department hosted leaders from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations for a meeting with Second Gentleman Emhoff, Secretary Cardona, Deputy Secretary Marten, Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, and several other senior administration officials. On Monday, November 13, Deputy Secretary Marten reconvened national Jewish community leaders to provide an update on the Department’s latest activities to address antisemitism and protect all students.
  • On Wednesday, November 15, Secretary Cardona held a meeting with Arab, Muslim, and Sikh community leaders on Islamophobia and anti-Arab hate in schools. CFBNP has also been conducting listening sessions with Palestinian American college students, faculty advisors for Muslim and Sikh students, and community leaders from Arab, Palestinian, Muslim, Sikh, and other impacted groups to gain more insights about how to support them in ensuring that students of all backgrounds are free to learn.
  • On Friday, November 17, Secretary Cardona traveled to New York City for a meeting with the Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council and leadership from Interfaith America regarding interfaith and cross-community partnerships to support all students in this post-10/7 environment.
  • On Thursday, November 30, Assistant Secretary Catherine Lhamon joined the American Council on Education for a presentation on colleges and universities’ nondiscrimination obligations under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  
  • On Thursday, December 14, Secretary Cardona hosted two national webinars on how PK-12 schools and institutions of higher education can support students and ensure all are free to learn in a safe, inclusive learning environment. These webinars presented resources from the Department to help respond to the rise in antisemitism, Islamophobia, anti-Arab hate, and other forms of discrimination. They also featured conversations with exemplary leaders to share best practices and lessons learned within their own communities. Recordings are now available of the PK-12 session and the higher education session.  
  • On Thursday, December 21, Secretary Cardona joined Neera Tanden, Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, and other senior leaders in a roundtable with U.S. legal scholars focused on nondiscrimination and freedom of expression in higher education.  

The White House and the U.S. Departments of Justice (DOJ), Homeland Security (DHS), and Agriculture, among other federal agencies, have also been engaged in outreach efforts to respond to the moment. For example, in November, Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff and U.S. Ambassador for International Religious Freedom Rashad Hussain traveled to Cornell University and Stanford University to speak with students targeted with threats and violence motivated by antisemitic, anti-Arab, and anti-Muslim hate. DHS and DOJ have disseminated public safety information to and hosted calls with campus law enforcement as part of broader outreach to state, local, tribal, and territorial officials to address the threat environment and share information about available resources. DHS has also shared relevant resources with campus partners nationwide.

Throughout the week of November 13, Secretary Cardona, Deputy Secretary Marten, and Under Secretary James Kvaal convened leaders of elementary, secondary, and post-secondary institutions to glean key insights from the field about how some schools are keeping students safe in the wake of the Israel-Hamas conflict.

  • On Tuesday, November 14, Under Secretary James Kvaal hosted a listening session with leaders of twelve colleges and universities to hear about promising and effective strategies being implemented on campuses to counter antisemitism, Islamophobia, and anti-Arab hate since October 7. Participants represented institutions from across the country, including public and private institutions, two-year and four-year colleges, and urban and rural schools. All the institutions shared concerns about the physical and emotional safety of students, faculty, and staff.
  • On Thursday, November 16, Deputy Secretary Marten hosted a roundtable with eight principals and superintendents from across the country to hear about strategies being implemented on school campuses to combat hate. Principals represented elementary and secondary schools and superintendents were from a wide array of districts, small and large, urban and rural. All the participants highlighted the importance of creating a learning environment where all students feel safe and have a sense of belonging.

All of these engagements inform the Department’s efforts to provide resources tailored to the needs of educational institutions, students, and communities in this post-10/7 environment. Numerous best practices were shared during these listening sessions that institutions can learn from and adapt to their own school campuses and communities.

Protections under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

OCR also works every day to ensure that the civil rights of all students are protected. To this end, on November 7, OCR released a Dear Colleague letter reminding PreK-12 schools and institutions of higher education of their legal obligations under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI) to provide all students, including students who are or are perceived to be Jewish, Israeli, Muslim, Arab, or Palestinian, a school environment free from discrimination based on race, color, or national origin.

This follows two related actions earlier this year. In January 2023, OCR released a fact sheet, Protecting Students from Discrimination Based on Shared Ancestry or Ethnic Characteristics, and, in May 2023, issued a Dear Colleague Letter as part of the Department’s launch of an Antisemitism Awareness Campaign.

On Thursday, November 16, OCR released a list of the higher education and K-12 institutions under investigation for alleged violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits race, color, or national origin discrimination, including harassment based on a person’s shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics. The list of K-12 schools and institutions of higher education that are under investigation for possible discrimination based on shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics will be updated weekly on the OCR website.

OCR is available to provide technical assistance through trainings to school communities as well as community organizations regarding the office’s enforcement of Title VI. OCR is conducting these trainings on an ongoing basis and welcomes requests for training which can be submitted to OCR@ed.gov.

In October, OCR also released an updated complaint form specifying that Title VI’s protection from discrimination based on race, color, or national origin extends to students who are or are perceived to be Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, or Sikh, or based on other shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics. This update will help individuals understand how to file a Title VI complaint. Anyone who believes that a school has discriminated against a student based on race, color, or national origin can file a complaint of discrimination with OCR. The person who files the complaint does not need to have been the target of the alleged violation, but could be a family member, or faculty, staff, or any other concerned community member who is aware of possible discrimination.

In addition to conversations with Jewish, Muslim, and Arab community leaders following the October 7 Hamas attacks, Secretary Cardona met with bridge builders from the Muslim Jewish Advisory Council in New York, NY, to explore strategies for long term interfaith engagement.

New Resources to Keep Students Safe in the Classroom and on Campuses

The Department is sharing resources for students, educators, and communities that can be used to strengthen school safety efforts. One example of these efforts is funding from the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which provided $1 billion to districts to design and enhance initiatives to promote safer, more inclusive, and positive school environments for all students, educators, and school staff.

In the wake of the October 7 attacks, the Department-funded National Center for Safe and Supportive Learning Environments (NCSSLE) released two collections of specialized resources designed to help educators, students, parents, and community members keep students safe from antisemitism, Islamophobia, and related forms of discrimination. One collection is designed for P-12 schools and the other for institutions of higher education.

On December 6, the OESE launched a Free to Learn webinar series, hosted by NCSSLE, for PreK-12 school personnel and community-based organizations to develop, strengthen, and share evidence-informed strategies that help schools prevent and respond to hate-based threats, bullying, and harassment. The webinar series kicks off with a session on “Creating a Welcoming Environment” on Dec. 6, followed by webinars on “Full Student Participation” on Dec. 13, “Conflict Mediation” on Jan. 17, and “Ongoing Support” in February.

Additional assistance is also being provided by other Department-funded technical assistance centers such as its 4 regional equity assistance centers. Equity Assistance Centers provide technical assistance and training, upon request, in the areas of race, sex, national origin, and religion to public school districts and other responsible governmental agencies to promote equitable education opportunities.

On Tuesday, November 14, the Department released a fact sheet announcing new tools to tackle antisemitism, Islamophobia, and anti-Arab and related forms of discrimination and bias, including many of the aforementioned resources.

As part its ongoing Antisemitism Awareness Campaign, the Department’s Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships is also spotlighting notable efforts by students, communities, educators, and administrators to prevent and address antisemitism and to be more inclusive of students of all religious, secular, and spiritual identities.

This body of work is a continuation of the Department’s existing Free to Learn initiative, launched as part of President Biden’s United We Stand initiative. The initiative includes efforts led by the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships specifically aimed at promoting inclusion of students of all religious, secular, and spiritual identities in school. For example, in July of this year, the Center hosted a conference entitled “Free to Learn: Inclusion, Rights, and Accommodations for Students of All Faiths and None,” in-person and livestreamed, for educators, administrators, and community leaders. The conference featured, among other sessions, a session specifically on antisemitism and the experiences of Jewish students, another specifically on religious inclusion and accommodations in institutions of higher education, and another on civil rights protections for students.

More information from the CFBNP can be found on its landing pages on freedom of religioncountering antisemitism, and countering Islamophobia.

The Department will continue to promote technical assistance opportunities to help school and campus communities improve inclusion, accommodations, and protections for students of all religious, secular, and spiritual identities.

Reporting Under the Clery Act 

In order to receive federal funding, colleges and universities are required to comply with the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, known simply as the Clery Act.  Campus community members who experience an antisemitic, anti-Muslim, anti-Arab incident or any other type of bias incident can report it to your school.    

Why?  The Clery Act requires institutions to disclose information about certain criminal offenses – including intimidation, assault, vandalism – that occur on campus that were motivated by the following categories of bias: Race, Gender, Gender identity, Religion, Sexual orientation, Ethnicity, National origin, and Disability.  By reporting such incidents, the fact that it happened will become public, which allows students and their families to make well-informed decisions about where to study and empowers them to play an active role in their own safety and to assist others.  

Most schools provide multiple ways to report.  Check your school’s Annual Security Report or official website for more information on reporting options. Reporting hate crimes and other concerns to help make sure victims get the assistance they need and inform prevent future offenses. 

Protecting students from antisemitism, Islamophobia, and related forms of discrimination and bias is essential to our broader fight against all forms of hate, bigotry, and bias—and to our broader vision of a thriving, inclusive, and diverse democracy. For more information regarding the Department’s related efforts, please visit the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships webpage.