Mr. Mohammad Z. Islam
Rialto Unified School District
182 East Walnut Avenue
Rialto, CA 92376
Dear Mr. Islam:
We wrote to you more than two months ago, expressing our shock about the Holocaust denial assignment that was given to the 2000 eighth graders in your school district last spring. Shortly before we sent our letter, the district had taken a few small steps in response to this outrage. District officials apologized for the assignment (after initially defending it), stated that the assignment would not be repeated, sent the eighth graders to the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, and represented that the eighth grade teachers would be undergoing “sensitivity training” at the Museum of Tolerance. Our letter strongly stated that these steps were nowhere near enough to address what are plainly far-reaching systemic problems in the school district. We urged that district officials take several additional steps to help turn a reprehensible incident into something positive and educational. And we offered our assistance in that endeavor.
We copied our letter to the members to the Board of Education. Neither you nor anyone else on behalf of the district even bothered to respond, and we have seen no indication that school officials have any plans to do anything further to remedy the serious damage it caused. Because of the actions of “educators” in your district – who lacked training, judgment and appropriate oversight – students have wrongly been led to believe that the very fact of the Holocaust is something that can legitimately be questioned. In addition, the district has wrongly led students to believe hateful falsehoods about the Jewish people – outrageously, that the Jews themselves may have invented the Holocaust for their own personal gain.
District administrators claimed last May thatnone of the eighth graders who completed the assignment questioned or denied the Holocaust. We now know that their claim is false. The San Bernardino County Sun reported last week that it surveyed the students’ essays and found that at least 50 denied or doubted the Holocaust occurred. The news report stated, “Even many students who agreed the Holocaust occurred said there were good reasons to believe it had not, or that elements of the historical record were actually hoaxes.” (See http://www.sbsun.com/social-affairs/20140711/exclusive-holocaust-denied-by-students-in-rialto-school-assignment.)
Equally concerning is the Sun’s report that students actually earned high marks and praise from their teachers for arguing that the Holocaust never occurred. For example, in response to one student’s essay that the Holocaust was “fake” and “a hoax,” his teacher commented, “you did well using the evidence to support your claim,” and the teacher gave this student a grade of 23 points out of 30, with points marked off for not addressing counterclaims, capitalization and punctuation errors. Notably, the teacher did not did not penalize this student for submitting an essay that endorsed anti-Semitic lies about undeniable historical facts and truths.
As we wrote to you last May, there are fundamental systemic problems in your school district that an apology, a visit to the Museum of Tolerance, and “sensitivity training” for the eighth grade teachers cannot possibly fix. A group of teachers and the district’s Educational Services Department were responsible for creating the Holocaust assignment, which raises legitimate concern about whether some or all of these individuals are anti-Semitic Holocaust deniers.
Beyond the obvious problem with the individuals who actually created the Holocaust denial assignment is the problem that not a single other teacher or administrator in the district questioned the appropriateness of the assignment before it was given to the eighth graders. If anyone did have qualms about the assignment, not a single person spoke up. This shows a lack of competence and judgment among all teachers and administrators, and may well be a sign of their own hostility to Jews. In addition, the district’s system for creating and overseeing curricula is plainly broken. The fact that district officials initially defended the assignment shows just how pervasive the problems in the district are.
We again urge you to take the necessary remedial steps to address and fix these systemic problems in the district, so that this appalling incident is never repeated, and students and their families can be assured teachers, staff and a curriculum that value and promote education based on historical truths, rather than anti-Semitic lies. We strongly recommend the following:
The teachers and members of the Educational Services Department who created and approved the Holocaust assignment should be fired immediately, if that has not been the consequence already. These individuals breached their professional responsibility in an inexcusable way. We cannot comprehend why district officials have refused to identify the individuals responsible for crafting the assignment, and why officials have failed to hold these individuals fully accountable for their complete lack of judgment and competence.
All teachers and administrative staff in the district should be required to participate in an intensive educational program about the Holocaust and the problem of anti-Semitism. The “sensitivity training” that the district says it will require is vague and simply not enough. Not a single teacher or administrator understood how wrong and irresponsible the Holocaust denial assignment was until all the media attention forced them to acknowledge it. The district should commit to a stringent and mandatory curriculum for all teachers and administrative staff, created by experts in the field.
All students in the district should be required to participate in a similar intensive educational program about the Holocaust and the problem of anti-Semitism, appropriate for their age and experience.
District officials should create and implement policies and procedures for how assignments and curricula are developed, how they will be approved and implemented, and how they will be overseen. School is scheduled to begin on August 4th in your district, and yet the Sun reported last week that even at this late date, “district administrators . . . have not been able to provide or point to any policies governing the development of lessons or curricula.” That is inexcusable.
District officials should send a letter to every family in the school district, explaining exactly what happened regarding the Holocaust denial assignment, taking full responsibility for this appalling incident, confirming that the grades for this assignment will be extinguished, and describing in detail all the remedial steps that will be taken (which we believe should include all of the above).
If the school district does not finally take the necessary remedial steps, we will be compelled to alert the U.S. Department of Education to the district’s conduct. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act requires publicly funded schools to take reasonable steps to fix a hostile anti-Semitic school environment so that the problem does not recur. That legal obligation is particularly significant here, where the district itself is solely responsible for promoting the anti-Semitism and creating the hostile environment.
We look forward to hearing from you before the start of your school year.
Very truly yours,
Morton A. Klein
National President, ZOA
Susan B. Tuchman, Esq.
Director, Center for Law and Justice