Lawmaker tries again on measure mandating Holocaust study in Pa. schools

 Lawmaker tries again on measure mandating Holocaust study in Pa. schools. (Dan Balilty/AP Photo, file)

Lawmaker tries again on measure mandating Holocaust study in Pa. schools. (Dan Balilty/AP Photo, file)

The sponsor of a bill mandating that Pennsylvania schools teach students about the Holocaust and other genocides will continue pushing the legislation in the fall.

Legislation that passed the House in June asks the Department of Education to develop curriculum guidelines for Holocaust education but stops short of requiring that all schools teach it.

State Rep. Brendan Boyle’s amendment to HB1424 requiring Holocaust education was rejected by the House in a narrow 99-99 tie.

Some legislators opposed the bill during the first vote on principle, Boyle said, because they believe Pennsylvania should not place any more mandates on schools, period.

Boyle said he thinks that’s a false argument.

“The fact is that we have mandates all the time,” he said. “We have mandates on how many days you have to be in school, on what kind of tests you can take, on what kind of curriculum.”

The state Department of Education lets individual school districts set their own curricula but establishes standards that schools must meet in order for students to move on to the next grade.

Boyle said he can’t think of any cost or principle that should stop members from supporting the bill when he raises the issue again in the fall.

“We literally just need to win over one more member in order to get a majority vote,” he said. “So I’m optimistic that we will get this done. It is the right thing to do.”

But time is of the essence, Bucks County-based author Rhonda Fink-Whitman said. With Holocaust survivors—including her mother—getting older, the window for students to hear accounts of the Holocaust from people who were there is narrowing.

“It’s one thing to read a story on the web,” said Fink-Whitman, whose novel “94 Maidens follows schoolgirls in Nazi-occupied Poland. “It’s another thing to meet an 80-year-old survivor, who rolls up his sleeve and shows you his tattoo on his forearm.”

Fink-Whitman said that even if the state only offers schools the resources to teach about the Holocaust and other genocides, so long as teachers have a choice, they may ignore or leave out material.

“It’s not working, it hasn’t been working, and it’s still not going to work,” she said. “It has to be mandated.”

HB1424 requires the Department of Education to provide “guidelines, in-service training and any other materials” to teach the Holocaust and other genocide histories in schools.

Five states, including New Jersey and New York, already require Holocaust education in public schools.

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