Rialto Unified to Improve Oversight of Lesson Planning after Holocaust Essay Scandal

Article excerpt

Rialto » In response to concerns raised over a Holocaust essay assignment that brought national media attention to Rialto Unified, a top district administrator said Tuesday that the district will add new processes and increase oversight of lesson planning when teachers meet this summer to plan next year's curricula.

The district has been widely criticized over the assignment, which directed students to "read and discuss multiple, credible articles on this issue, and write an argumentative essay, based on cited textual evidence, in which you explain whether or not you believe (the Holocaust) was an actual event in history, or merely a political scheme created to influence public emotion and gain wealth."

Susan Levine, Rialto Unified's associate superintendent for educational services, said the assignment was developed locally by a small group of teachers and did not come from any textbook or off- the-shelf curriculum.

When teachers meet over the summer to work on the first writing prompts for the 2014-15 school year, there will be more oversight, she said.

"We'll put a new process in place that will have more levels of review on future topics and we'll ensure that there's no topic that could be construed as insensitive or could be left open for massive misinterpretation," Levine said.

The Holocaust assignment was developed in December by a group of eighth-grade teachers working on the third-quarter English Language Arts argumentative writing/research project. It was based on the eighth-grade "Diary of Anne Frank" unit the students would be working on.

"We have district writing prompts," Levine said. "The writing prompts are put out for review, for comment, to the other teachers and the principals. If any revisions need to be made, that's done."

The assignment was distributed to middle school sites in February where, she said, there were no issues raised.

"I didn't get one complaint from teachers, from parents, from students," Levine said.

Approximately 2,000 eighth-graders completed the assignment.

The district did get complaints from other quarters, though. News of the assignment quickly spread after it was first reported on Sunday. Broadcast media jumped on the story immediately, along with wire services and other media. By Monday, the district offices were besieged by news vans, and telephones rang off the hook with calls from around the country, including a death threat leveled against two employees. …