Mass Senate Advances Genocide Education Bill

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In full transparency, the following is a press release from Senate President Karen Spilka office submitted to SOURCE media.

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BOSTON – The Massachusetts State Senate on Thursday passed An Act concerning genocide education to provide education to middle and high school students on the history of genocide and to promote the teaching of human rights issues.

“It is dangerous to have knowledge of the Holocaust and other instances of genocide fading at the exact same time instances of hate and anti-Semitism are on the rise,” said Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “As a Jewish woman and the daughter of a World War II veteran who saw the horrors of a concentration camp firsthand, I believe it is our responsibility to ensure we educate our children on the many instances of genocide throughout history so that they can learn why it is so important that this history is not repeated. I applaud Senator Rodrigues and his staff for their steadfast commitment to advancing this legislation, as well as Senator Lewis, the members of the Education Committee, and my Senate colleagues for their support. I am proud that the Senate has again taken a strong stance on the need to promote genocide education in our schools.”

An Act concerning genocide education now moves to the Massachusetts House of Representatives for consideration.

“To ensure that the atrocities of the past never again scar our world, we must act to ensure young people are meaningfully educated about the history of genocide and armed with the knowledge to stand against its root causes, today and into the future,” said Senator Michael J. Rodrigues (D-Westport), Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. “I applaud Senate President Spilka and my colleagues in the Senate for taking bold action to pass this legislation and say that we will never forget the lessons of the past and we will stand opposed to the forces of division and ignorance. I also thank my constituent, Dr. Ron Weisberger, ADL, JCRC, MASC, and the dedicated advocates for their support and sustained efforts to ensure we use the power of education to address hate in our communities, broaden public awareness, and shape our collective future.”

The bill requires every middle school and high school in the Commonwealth to include instruction on the history of genocide. Similar legislation was advanced by the Senate in prior sessions, but this most recent iteration comes as incidences of hate and anti-Semitism are on the rise across the country, with several incidents reported in Massachusetts over the past year.

In 2020, a widely reported survey commissioned by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, which gauged Holocaust knowledge among millennials and Generation Z populations, found that 63 per cent did not know six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust. The survey also found that nearly half were unfamiliar with Nazi concentration camps like Auschwitz. Massachusetts does not currently require Holocaust education or other genocides as part of classroom curriculum.

“It is shocking how many young people today have never heard of the Auschwitz concentration camp, the Holocaust, or other heinous genocides perpetrated in the past,” said Senator Jason Lewis (D-Winchester), Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Education. “This important legislation will ensure that more students understand the history of genocide so that it never happens again. I’m grateful to Senator Michael Rodrigues for championing this legislation and to all of the educators and advocates who have worked to see this bill passed.”

This bill would establish a Genocide Education Trust Fund to promote and educate middle and high school students on the history of genocide. Funds in this trust would be used for the instruction of middle and high school students on the history of genocide and ensure the development of curricular materials, as well as to provide professional development training to assist educators in the teaching of genocide.

“We are grateful to Senate President Spilka, Chair Rodrigues, Chair Lewis, and their fellow Senators for moving forward a bill that includes strong provisions to ensure that schools across the Commonwealth have access to Holocaust and genocide education programs,” said Jeremy Burton, Executive Director for the Jewish Community Relations Council. “Numerous incidents over the last year have shown us that this coursework is as critical and relevant now as it has ever been. We are eager to see this bill make it to the Governor’s desk as swiftly as possible.”

“We appreciate the leadership of Senate President Spilka, Senate Ways and Means Chair Rodrigues, and their legislative colleagues for taking this critical step toward ensuring that Massachusetts public school students receive Holocaust and genocide education prior to high school graduation,” said Robert Trestan, ADL New England Regional Director. “This year, we have seen stark reminders of the need for genocide education as Holocaust terminology has been misused in our community on athletic fields and in the public square. Massachusetts now has an opportunity to use the power of education to address hate through this essential initiative for Holocaust and genocide education in the Commonwealth.”

“At this culturally relevant time, it is critically important that we directly confront the implications of bigotry, hate and ignorance through education and conversation while maintaining a heightened awareness,” said Glenn S. Koocher, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, Inc. “The passage of this bill today by the Senate is a crucial step towards ensuring students can be meaningfully taught the history of genocide and be equipped with the educational tools necessary to combat hatred and ignorance.”

The billrequires each school district to annually file a description of their lesson plan and programs related to genocide education with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). The bill also establishes a competitive grant program that schools, and districts can apply to for additional programming support.

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