Apology for "Horribly Inappropriate" School Holocaust Assignment

The "argumentative research assignment" asked eighth-graders to debate whether the Holocaust really happened

By Christina Cocca
|  Thursday, May 8, 2014  |  Updated 12:34 PM EDT
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A Southern California school board apologized for a

A Southern California school board apologized for a "horribly inappropriate assignment" that had middle-schoolers debate whether the Holocaust took place, officials said at a contentious meeting. Patrick Healy reports from Rialto for the NBC4 News at 11 on Wednesday, May 7, 2014.

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Holocaust School Assignment Sparks Anti-Semitism Concerns

Controversy over a questionable Holocaust-related essay assignment at a Rialto middle school prompted an emergency meeting involving Jewish leaders and law enforcement officials. Patrick Healy reports from Rialto for the NBC4 News at 6 on Wednesday, May 7, 2014.
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A Southern California school board is "deeply sorry" for a "horribly inappropriate assignment" that had middle-schoolers debate whether the Holocaust happened, officials said at a contentious meeting Wednesday evening.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center was among the speakers protesting the district's decision during a meeting on Wednesday night.

"There's something broken (in the district)," he said.

He attributed the assignment to "stupidity" and invited the school district to bring both students and staffers to visit the Museum of Tolerance.

Rialto School Board President Joanne T. Gilbert said school district leadership "accepts responsibility and the duty to correct this problem."

She said officials had no intention to be hurtful.

The middle school assignment prompted death threats against school officials and police to be stationed outside schools earlier this week in response.

Before the board's statement, community members slammed the assignment and demanded the board take action.

The "argumentative research assignment" asked eighth-graders to argue whether the Holocaust "was an actual event in history or merely a political scheme created to influence public emotion and gain wealth," according to a copy obtained by NBC4.

"I thought it was really unfair," student Oyuky Barragan said. "Are they saying that the Holocaust was really a hoax?"

The one-page instruction sheet stated: "When tragic events occur in history, there is often debate about their actual existence. For example, some people claim the Holocaust is not an actual event, but instead is a propaganda tool that was used for political and monetary gain."

The death threats made against the superintendent and district spokesperson were traced back to a phone in Connecticut, Rialto Police Capt. Randy De Anda said.

The interim superintendent said he never saw the Holocaust assignment until the recent uproar brought it to his attention.

"From the bottom of my heart, I feel sorry for this whole thing," Rialto Unified School District Superintendent Muhammed Z. Islam said. "We will ensure this thing doesn't happen again."

The assignment, most recently given to the students in April, instructed them to base their argument on "multiple credible sources."

"You will read and discuss multiple, credible articles on this issue, and write an argumentative essay, based upon cited actual textual evidence, in which you explain 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. Remember to address counterclaims (rebuttals) to your stated claim," it continued.

The district said it would not assign the topic again and would strike references to "the Holocaust not occurring" from any future research projects.

"The Holocaust should be taught in classrooms with sensitivity and profound consideration to the victims who endured the atrocities committed," the district said in a statement.

NBC4's Patrick Healy and Samia Khan contributed to this report.

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