Pro-Palestine activist Bassem Tamimi, center, has been the focus of an ongoing legal dispute over records at the Ithaca City School District. Photo courtesy of Tamimi's Facebook pagePro-Palestine activist Bassem Tamimi, center, has been the focus of an ongoing legal dispute over records at the Ithaca City School District. Photo courtesy of Tamimi's Facebook page

This story has been updated with the name of the petitioner in the story. 

ITHACA, N.Y. — Ithaca teachers are being ordered by a New York court to provide all documentation — even if it’s on a teacher’s personal phone or laptop — regarding a pro-Palestinian speaker who spoke to elementary school students last fall.

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In September, pro-Palestine activist Bassem Tamimi spoke to a classroom of Third Grade students at the Beverly J. Martin Elementary School in Ithaca. Superintendent Luvelle Brown later apologized, calling the event a mistake and saying the school “sincerely regret(s)” that Tamimi spoke to the children.

The visit created controversy with some people saying Tamimi is a true activist who has been recognized by the United Nations as a “human rights defender” and was also declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International in 2012.  Others said Tamimi uses children to instigate harsh reactions from Israeli soldiers and filming the incidents for anti-Israeli propaganda on social media.

Related: Judge sends Ithaca schools a message over pro-Palestinian speaker

Courts got involved in the situation when William Jacobson filed a Freedom of Information Law request, wanting all documentation regarding Tamimi’s visit to the school.

In a response from the school dated Dec. 1, 2015, however, Spokesperson Amanda Verba said, “The Ithaca Teachers Association (ITA) President informed us that the ITA considers any records that were sent or received by ITA members via their personal e-mail accounts and/or personal devices, to be personal in nature. Therefore, the ITA President has informed us, that to the extent records exist, they will not be furnished by ITA members.”

Jacobson fought this response and the Ithaca City School District conceded that all information on personal devices was, in fact, subject to FOIL requests.

The court therefore determined that all ICSD teachers with information about Tamimi’s visit must work with the district to make copies of the information for the FOIL petitioners.

The district is also required to create a procedure, “for conferring personally with each employee who was involved in scheduling or overseeing the Tamimi event to determine whether their respective personal devices contain any records that may be responsive to petitioner’s request.”

The school must provide the information within 30 days of the court ruling.

Jacobson v ICSD – Decision Order and Judgment

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Jolene Almendarez

Jolene Almendarez is Managing Editor at The Ithaca Voice. She can be reached at jalmendarez@ithacavoice.com; you can learn more about her at the links in the top right of this box.