The Rialto school district planned to revise an eighth-grade assignment that raised red flags by asking students to consider arguments about whether the Holocaust — the systematic killing by the Nazis of some 6 million Jews and millions of others — was not an “actual event” but instead a “propaganda tool that was used for political and monetary gain.”
In a statement released Monday, a spokeswoman for the Rialto Unified School District said an academic team was meeting to revise the assignment.
Interim Superintendent Mohammad Z. Islam was set to talk with administrators to “assure that any references to the holocaust ‘not occurring’ will be stricken on any current or future Argumentative Research assignments,” a statement from district spokeswoman Syeda Jafri read.
“The holocaust should be taught in classrooms with sensitivity and profound consideration to the victims who endured the atrocities committed,” Jafri said.
The English/Language Arts assignment, first reported Sunday by the San Bernardino Sun and provided to KTLA by the newspaper, asked students to write an argumentative essay about the Holocaust describing “whether or not you believe this was an actual event in history, or merely a political scheme created to influence public emotion and gain wealth.”
The 18-page assignment instructions included three sources that students were told to use, including one that stated gassings in concentration camps were a “hoax” and that no evidence has shown Jews died in gas chambers.
“With all this money at stake for Israel, it is easy to comprehend why this Holocaust hoax is so secretly guarded,” states the source, which is a attributed to a webpage on biblebelievers.org.au. “In whatever way you can, please help shatter this profitable myth. It is time we stop sacrificing America’s welfare for the sake of Israel and spend our hard-earned dollars on Americans.”
In an interview, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, noted a section in the assignment that stated Anne Frank was a fraud.
“Pedagogically, socially, morally — an F,” Cooper said of the assignment.
The Los Angeles-area chapter of the Anti-Defamation League contacted the school district last week, saying the assignment was dangerous “given the large volume of misinformation” on Holocaust-denial websites.
“It is ADL’s general position that an exercise asking students to question whether the Holocaust happened has no academic value; it only gives legitimacy to the hateful and anti-Semitic promoters of Holocaust Denial,” read an email to the school district from ADL Associate Regional Director Matthew Friedman.
The ADL posted a statement, including the quotes from Friedman, on its blog on Monday.
“ADL does not have any evidence that the assignment was given as part of a larger, insidious, agenda,” the blog post read. “Rather, the district seems to have given the assignment with an intent, although misguided, to meet Common Core standards relating to critical learning skills.”
Senator Norma J. Torres, who represents Rialto in the California State Legislature, issued the following statement: “Giving school children an assignment that asks them to question whether the holocaust occurred is inappropriate. These actions are insensitive to the millions who lost loved ones and to the many people around the world who have no tolerance for discrimination and genocide. I urge the Rialto Unified School District to use better judgment in the future and to take immediate action to put an end to this controversy and the damage it is causing to the district’s reputation.”
Rialto Unified, which educates about 26,000 students in a San Bernardino County city about 50 miles east of Los Angeles, did not receive complaints about the assignment from parents, teachers or administrators, Jafri told the Sun.
Since media accounts of the assignment were published, school district officials received death threats during a phone call from a man who said he was nearby, Jafri said.
The school district initially defended the assignment, with Jafri saying it was meant to engage students in “critical thinking.”
The district’s “CORE team” planned meet to revise the assignment, Jafri said in her statement provided to KTLA on Monday.
“This was a mistake. It should be corrected. It will be corrected,” Jafri said in an interview. “We all know it was real. The Holocaust is not a hoax. … I believe our classroom teachers are teaching it with sensitivity and compassion.”
The Common Core State Standards, adopted by most U.S. states including California, include writing standards that seek to have students make arguments and defend their answers based on texts they have read, among other goals.
Adopted since 2009, when the initiative was created by National Governors Association, the standards have been in the spotlight in recent months as parents and educators react to their implementation.
KTLA’s Sara Welch contributed to this article.