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Holocaust-belief school assignment called 'horribly inappropriate'

The school board of a Southern California district where students were told to write an essay on whether they believe the Holocaust really happened tell a packed public meeting that it was a "horribly inappropriate" assignment for which the board takes "full responsibility."

8th graders asked to explain whether they believed Holocaust was real historical event

Visitors walk past the main gate with the sign "Arbeit macht frei" (work sets you free) at Dachau near Munich, Germany. A school board in Rialto, Calif., was forced to backtrack on an eight-grade school assignment that asked students whether they believed the Holocaust was real. (Michael Dalder/Reuters)

The school board of a Southern California district where students were told to write an essay on whether they believe the Holocaust really happened said at a packed public meeting Wednesday night that it was a "horribly inappropriate" assignment for which the board takes "full responsibility."

Rialto Unified School Board president Joanne Gilbert read the remarks after a brief closed session that followed a heated public meeting where Jewish groups, tolerance organizations and community leaders denounced the assignment.

The initial assignment given to eighth-graders was to do some research and write an essay explaining whether they believed the Holocaust was a real historical event or a political scheme to influence public emotion and gain. It was developed in December by a group of language arts teachers planning a unit on The Diary of Anne Frank.

Already withdrawn

The district had already withdrawn the assignment and called it an error, but the school board went much further in its denunciation Wednesday night, and promised broader action to prevent similar incidents, including sensitivity training for eighth-graders at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.

"I don't understand why a fact of history would be a matter for debate," said Rabbi Suzanne Singer of Temple Beth El in Riverside, according to the San Bernardino Sun.

State Senator Norma Torres, who represents the area and was one of several political officials in attendance, urged the board to make a strong statement.

"Hate has no place in Rialto," Torres said. "Hate has no place in our classrooms."