Bill mandating Holocaust, genocide instruction advances in R.I. Senate


NM-Statehouse-20_f672f6c2-5056-a36a-09b291e2fba699e8By Alisha A. Pina

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (Providence Journal) — Two education bills — one teaching students about the Holocaust and other genocides and the other regarding suspensions and the collection of discipline data — are on their way to the state House of Representatives.

The bill on teaching about the Holocaust and several genocides was approved unanimously by the Senate, 36 to 0. It mandates in middle school or high school the teaching of the Holocaust and other genocides in, but not limited to, Armenia, Cambodia, Iraq, Rwanda and Darfur.

Seven states — California, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania — have similar legislation. A current law in Rhode Island only encourages the awareness education.

If approved, teaching is required to begin in the 2017-18 school year. The House passed a duplicate bill in early May.

A coalition made up of members of the Armenian community, Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence, Rhode Island State Council of Churches, the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island and the Sandra Bornstein Holocaust Education Center have been meeting since last fall to research and draft the legislation.

The lead sponsor of the bill is Sen. Gayle L. Goldin (D-Providence) who said: “When we look at what’s going on globally, the impact of war and strife, it’s important to place them in a larger historical context, so our children understand the long-term impact of genocides and the Holocaust, so we don’t repeat that history.”

Sen. Donna M. Nesselbush (D-Pawtucket, North Providence) said her district was recently hit by anti-Semitism: a spray-painted swastika was found outside an Orthodox synagogue in Pawtucket.

“There is no room for that kind of hatred in our communities,” Nesselbush said before the vote, “and we will do everything, in addition to this bill, to root it out of our communities.”

In addition, the full Senate last week approved a bill that directs school superintendents to annually review data on discipline to determine if a disproportionate number of students, based on their color, ethnicity or disability, are being punished.

The bill states: “Each student, staff member, teacher, and administrator has a right to attend and/or work at a school which is safe and secure, and which is conducive to learning, and which is free from the threat, actual or implied, of physical harm by a disruptive student.”

Administrators are to report the findings, if there are any to share, and correct the unequal actions if any are found.

The bills require approval from both chambers and then action by Governor Gina Raimondo before they become law.