Action on genocide education legislation may come “shortly,” according to the House chairperson for the Joint Committee on Education.
“Recognizing the importance of this issue, the Education Committee favorably reported out a genocide education bill last session,” said Alice Peisch, D-Wellesley, in email. “We are in the process of reviewing similar bills pending before the Committee this session and anticipate taking action on them shortly.”
During the last legislative session, a bill calling for genocide education in Massachusetts public schools passed the state Senate, but the need to deal with the pandemic stopped the legislation in its tracks, according to state Sen. Patrick O’Connor, a Republican from Weymouth whose district includes Duxbury.
O’Connor said in an email he suspects discussions on the bill will pick back up in September after the legislature returns from its August Recess.
Current legislation would provide genocide education in Bay State classrooms, with state lawmakers citing a high-profile incident, in which the Duxbury High School football team reportedly used the term “Auschwitz” to call a play during a game on March 12, as a reason why action is sorely needed.
“The bill right now has been heard,” O’Connor said in interview on Aug. 16, shortly before attending a ceremony to recognize 18 Duxbury High teens who took part in a program called the Holocaust Symposium for Teens this summer.
“The Senate passed it last session, but then COVID really put the brakes on everything, to be perfectly honest with you … The Senate bill mandates [education] and funds it, [but] the House bill wouldn’t mandate it,” said O’Connor, the ranking minority member of the Joint Committee on Education, briefly outlining the differences between the House and Senate versions.
In an email, O’Connor said the bill sits in the Joint Committee on Education awaiting a favorable report.
“Since the Holocaust Symposium last week, I have reached out to Senate Leadership to express my support once again for the bill and encouraged it to be released from Committee and brought up in the Senate as soon as possible,” O’Connor said. For the bill to become law, it needs to be voted out favorably from the education committee, then passed by both the House and Senate, and then signed by Gov. Charlie Baker, he said.
However, there are some differences in the language between the House and Senate versions to be ironed out.
“Last year, the Senate passed a version of the bill that required an annual report be given on the progress of genocide education programs across the state to see where improvements may be made,” O’Connor said. “The House version of the bill did/does not include that language. The bill failed to reach the Governor’s desk and the legislature is taking another look at the language. My understanding is there is some debate regarding whether this should be included again this year.”
Not long after the allegations regarding the Duxbury High football team surfaced, state lawmakers voiced their support for genocide education in public schools, which is a legislative priority of the Anti-Defamation League.
State Senate President Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, who is a Jewish lawmaker, tweeted out her support.
Shortly after the Duxbury High incident, O’Connor and state Sen. Barry Finegold, D-Andover, a Jewish member of the legislature, met on Zoom with some members of the team to reflect on what happened. Finegold also has expressed his support of genocide education.
State Rep. Lori Ehrlich, D-Marblehead, another Jewish member of the state legislature, is one of the genocide education bill’s co-sponsors.
“I am proud to be co-sponsoring legislation that will ensure that genocide education will be embedded in our state’s public education curriculum for generations to come,” she said.
When asked why the bill languished during last session, Ehrlich said, “COVID definitely put the brakes on just about everything but COVID-related assistance.”
O’Connor said he visited Israel three years ago and toured Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial. Genocide education in Massachusetts should not be taught as an elective, he said, “but more as a prerequisite mandated study in class to make sure, as the old adage goes, that history doesn’t repeat itself.”
Duxbury High already offers two social studies courses on the Holocaust and genocide: Holocaust and Human Behavior I and Genocide and Human Behavior II. But both are electives.
During the Holocaust Symposium for Duxbury Teens ceremony, state Rep. Kathleen LaNatra, D-Kingston, who represents a portion of Duxbury, said she supports the House bill, which has 74 co-sponsors including Democrats and Republicans from both the House and the Senate. LaNatra said this bill would create a trust fund to pay for genocide education.
“What this bill will do is make it possible for schools to be funded to teach about genocide. It will teach teachers to teach about genocide. It will fund programs, it will fund materials,” she said.
“We are really pushing up at the Statehouse that we have genocide education for all of Massachusetts, that every single child in public school be taught this,” O’Connor said.