At a time of heightened fear among communities with ties to the Middle East, the Hillsborough County school district is among numerous educational institutions being investigated by the U.S. Department of Education.
But neither the district nor the department will say why.
The department’s Office for Civil Rights included Hillsborough in a list it posted earlier this month of institutions suspected of discrimination based on “shared ancestry,” meaning their ethnic background.
Of special concern are students who are Jewish or Muslim, or Arab students of any religion, given the level of attention on the war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
But while the federal announcement detailed the meetings officials have held to combat acts of hate against these communities, the agency said it does not discuss cases that are under investigation.
Similarly, the Hillsborough school district cited a sweeping federal privacy law requiring parents to give permission before they can release any information contained in student records.
However, officials confirmed that the investigation stems from a parent alleging discrimination based on ethnic heritage after a student had a problem at a school, and the school took action.
They declined to give any specifics, saying it could violate the student’s privacy.
The federal agency’s list also included the University of Tampa, where a family said their son was bullied by fellow students because he is Jewish.
The education department said it is updating its posted lists weekly. Leaders of the Jewish Anti-Defamation League and the Council for American-Islamic Relations praised the government’s action. Both organizations have reported alarming increases in acts of hostility against Jewish and Muslim students.
Jessica Vaughn, a Hillsborough school board member who has stated she will not tolerate any show of hatred or demonization against a religious or ethnic group, said she has heard disturbing stories since the start of the Israel-Hamas war from Jewish and Muslim families.
“The bulk of what I see most is from elementary school students,” she said.