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April 14, 2016 8:12 pm

Jewish Day School Drops Controversial Suit Against Family That Protested Its Israel Policies

avatar by Andrew Pessin

The Lerner School in Durham, NC. Photo: Website

The Lerner School in Durham, NC. Photo: Website

A Jewish day school in Durham, NC, has dropped its lawsuit against a couple who withdrew their children in protest over what they felt was the institution’s growing antagonism to Israel, The Algemeiner has learned.

The Lerner School sued Sloan and Guy Rachmuth for breach of contract in the fall of 2014, after they decided not to send their children back after the summer and refused, according to the school, to pay what was owed under an enrollment contract signed six months earlier. The Rachmuths subsequently countersued for fraud, claiming that the school had falsely portrayed itself as pro-Israel, as reported by The Algemeiner.

“We are pleased that public pressure has finally forced the Lerner School’s hand in dismissing their lawsuit against our family,” Sloan Rachmuth told The Algemeiner, adding,

After we found, to our astonishment, that the only Jewish day school within a 50-mile radius employed prolific anti-Israel boycott activists as teachers and administrators, the school initiated what amounts to legal bullying as part of a larger attempt to silence our speech about our legitimate concerns.

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The teacher Rachmuth was referring to was an Israeli expatriate who had signed an open letter claiming that “the state of Israel commits war crimes and tramples over human rights;” had openly worked with groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP); and had posted a photo of herself on the Jewish Voice for Peace Facebook page condemning Israeli “oppression” and supporting a boycott of Israel. (The teacher’s contract was not renewed the following year, as reported by The Algemeiner.)

The administrator Rachmuth was referring to — who is still employed by the school — was active in Jews for a Just Peace, a group that often joined forces in protesting Israeli policies with SJP, the Palestinian Solidarity Movement and others. The administrator also supported a campaign demanding the end of US military support of Israel, and had written a Master’s thesis on “Palestinian Identity” that spoke harshly of the “oppressive impact of Israeli retaliations on the Palestinian populace” and “Israeli policies of collective punishment.”

The presence of these individuals, plus a number of other incidents (as reported in The Algemeiner and Jewish News Service), convinced the Rachmuths that the school did not share their values and was a bad fit for them.

“When it became clear that the school was not interested in responding to our complaints, we asked to leave quietly and quickly,” Sloan Rachmuth explained. “But rather than acknowledge our legitimate concerns, the school chose to pursue an aggressive campaign against us.”

She said it appeared that the school had adopted a strategy “to defame and harass our family into submission. School administrators … repeated slanderous claims that we were liars, bigots, and scofflaws. As such, we have been incorrectly portrayed as villains who want to destroy an innocent school and have become an object of scorn in the community where we run a business and raise our children.”

She also said that her and her husband’s countersuit, for fraud, still stands.

According to the court filing, the suit was “dismissed without prejudice,” which means that the Lerner School could, if it wishes, reinstitute it.

In response to The Algemeiner’s request for comment, the school replied with a statement that read, in part:

Over the past year, we have seen a simple contract dispute thrust the school, Lerner families, local rabbis and congregations, and the local community at large into a very public, difficult, and politically-charged situation. For reasons we do not understand, individuals outside our community, who had no knowledge of or experience with Lerner, chose to lodge baseless and disrespectful charges against the school and members of our faculty and staff.

We have decided that we will not continue to allow others to use the Lerner School to further their own political agendas.

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