Rialto Unified School District

By Beau Yarbrough, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin
Posted: 05/07/14, 7:10 PM PDT | Updated: 3 hrs ago

Rialto >> For the first time since news broke of a controversial Holocaust essay assignment, the Rialto Unified School District school board took “full responsibility” for the task Wednesday night, telling a packed board chamber that the assignment was “horribly inappropriate.”

Elected officials, rabbis and residents filled the board’s meeting room to express their disapproval of the writing assignment that asked eighth-graders to argue for or against the reality of the Holocaust.”

“That Holocaust denial exists is an insult against all of the victims of the Nazis, dead and alive,” Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Museum of Tolerance, told the board Wednesday night.

The eighth grade assignment “bestowed legitimacy (on Holocaust denial) and equivalency between hate and history,” he said.

After public comments, the board conferred behind closed doors. When they emerged more than an hour later, board president Joanne Gilbert read a prepared statement:

“The board and staff are deeply sorry for the hurt and propagation of misinformation caused by this assignment,” the statement began. “There was no intent to be hurtful, but due to a lack of critical thought and a lack of internal checks and balances, this project commenced and turned into a horribly inappropriate assignment.”

Eighth-grade teachers will undergo sensitivity training at the Museum of Tolerance, she said. The museum, according to its website, “is dedicated to challenging visitors to understand the Holocaust in both historic and contemporary contexts and confront all forms of prejudice and discrimination in our world today.”

This spring, the district’s approximately 2,000 eighth-graders were assigned an essay topic that directed them to “read and discuss multiple, credible articles on this issue, and write an argumentative essay, based on cited textual evidence, in which you explain whether or not you believe (the Holocaust) was an actual event in history, or merely a political scheme created to influence public emotion and gain wealth.”

Eighth grader Oyuky Barragan, 14, who attends Kucera Middle School, said she was offended by the assignment:

“I didn’t want to write it; I thought it was unfair,” she said while the board was conferring behind closed doors. “All of those people who died during the Holocaust, it actually kind of insulted them.”

The project has been roundly criticized since its existence was first reported Sunday afternoon.

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