A D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) staff member has been accused of making third graders reenact the Holocaust, with students pretending to dig mass graves and shoot victims. One student was cast as Hitler and reportedly told to pretend to commit suicide.
The Washington Post reported that the staff member, from Watkins Elementary School, was placed on leave Friday after the incident was reported. School Principal MScott Berkowitz wrote an email to parents regarding the incident but did not name the staff member. The student who was cast as Hitler is reportedly Jewish, according to the student’s parents.
The students were in the library on Friday for class and were supposed to be presenting a project to their classmates ahead of the winter break, but the instructor changed the lesson to the reenactment instead. One parent told the Post that the instructor made antisemitic comments during the reenactment, including telling children who asked why the Germans perpetrated the Holocaust that “the Jews ruined Christmas.” This parent also said the instructor told children not to tell anyone about the reenactment, but they told their homeroom teacher.
This parent also told the Post that her son was told to pretend to be on a train heading for a concentration camp and then pretend to die in a gas chamber.
One parent told Fox 5 DC that the children are “traumatized” by the incident.
“One parent said that their child was worried the teacher in question was hiding at their house. Children are having nightmares and generally having a very hard time,” the parent told the outlet.
“I want to acknowledge the gravity of this poor instructional decision, as students should never be asked to act out or portray any atrocity, especially genocide, war, or murder,” principal Berkowitz wrote in his email to parents.
The Post reported:
The incident was reported to D.C. Public Schools’ Comprehensive Alternative Resolution and Equity Team. The staff member is now on leave, pending a school investigation.
“This was not an approved lesson plan, and we sincerely apologize to our students and families who were subjected to this incident,” a spokesperson for DCPS said.
The entire class met with the school’s mental health response team after the Friday incident, according to Berkowitz’s email.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) of Washington D.C. condemned the incident on Twitter.
“We’re horrified 3rd grade students were instructed to re-enact scenes from the Holocaust. Simulation activities trivialize the experience of victims & often reinforce stereotypes. We’ll be providing resources & support to help promote healing & education,” the organization tweeted.
DCPS released a statement regarding the incident:
DC Public Schools is committed to creating a welcoming environment for all students. Last week, we received a report of a classroom of students receiving a lesson that included portraying different perspectives of the Holocaust. Students should never be tasked with acting out any atrocity, especially genocide and war. Additionally, there were allegations of a staff member using hate speech during the lesson, which is unacceptable and not tolerated at any of our schools. This was not an approved lesson plan, and we sincerely apologize to our students and families who were subjected to this incident. We have launched an investigation, and students are being supported by our DCPS Comprehensive Alternative Resolution & Equity Team.
A librarian at the school, however, says no Holocaust re-enactment or hate speech occurred that day.
“I think somebody’s misquoting what happened in the library that day,” she told Fox 5.
The librarian would not answer the outlet’s questions about whether any discussion about the Holocaust occurred that day.
“I’m going to wait for the the [sic] investigation. I was shocked to see it myself,” she said, referring to Berkowitz’s letter.