At an emergency school board meeting Wednesday night, Rialto School District officials apologized for an eighth-grade critical-thinking writing assignment that asked students to consider whether the Holocaust was created for political gain or didn't happen at all.
The assignment, developed by a group of teachers and the district’s educational services division, prompted widespread outcry and criticism from such groups as the Anti-Defamation League and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which called it “grotesque.”
The district said the assignment was meant to satisfy Common Core standards for critical thinking, but quickly pulled it and promised revisions. A spokeswoman called it a “bad mark” on the district's record.
Wednesday night, officials called the assignment a misguided attempt at being thought-provoking and pushing roughly 2,000 students to think critically.
There was a heavy police presence at the meeting because board members and school staff reported receiving death threats.
“From the bottom of my heart, I feel sorry for this whole thing happening,” said interim Supt. Mohammad Z. Islam, adding that he accepted full responsibility for the incident.
Board President Joanne Gilbert said the project turned into a “horribly inappropriate assignment” due to a lack of internal checks and balances.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, told the board that he hoped no one in the district still believed the assignment served to develop critical thinking.
He suggested that instructors be reeducated about the Holocaust and that mandatory annual visits be made to the museum, and offered to work with the district to develop detailed learning plans.
“There is something broken that's got to be fixed,” he said.