Mass. Senate passes genocide education bill

Boston Statehouse

BOSTON (SHNS/WWLP) – A bill that aims to make life easier for on-the-move military families and another that would require all Massachusetts middle and high schools to teach about the history of genocide each cleared the Senate unanimously on Thursday.

Senate President Karen Spilka tapped the genocide education bill as a priority in March, after reports arose of Duxbury High School football players using Holocaust-related terminology to call plays. She said at the time, “We need this to be more than just a ‘teachable moment’ – we need sustained, increased education – among administrators, educators, coaches, officials, referees and students – so that this never happens again.”

Members of the Senate made it clear that any act of violence will not be tolerated in the Commonwealth and they believe that the best way to prevent it is through education.

“Well, as they say those who forget history tend to repeat it and that is why it’s so critical that we teach young people that when they don’t speak up, when they don’t question authority bad things like genocide can happen,” Sen. Barry Finegold told 22News.

In addition to requiring instruction on the history of genocide and human rights issues, the bill (S 2525) establishes a Genocide Education Trust Fund to finance the creation of curriculum, professional development, training and other related expenses.

Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Michael Rodrigues said he was “haunted by a 2018 New York Times article that reported that 31 percent of Americans and 41 percent of millennials believe fewer than 2 million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, while the actual number was over 6 million.”

“With the constant barrage of visible and widespread white supremacy, ethnic genocide and race-based discrimination, the forces of fake news, divison and ignorance threaten our ability to educate our students on the grave mistakes of the past and how to avoid such atrocities in the future,” Rodrigues said. “As members of this commonwealth and of our global community, it is our collective responsibility to equip future generations with the education tools to combat hatred and prejudice by teaching our middle schoolers and high schoolers the truth.”

Sen. Jason Lewis, who co-chairs the Education Committee, said teaching about genocide history and human rights is “completely consistent” with the state’s history and social studies curriculum framework.

He said lawmakers should “cautiously” approach new curriculum mandates, “but this is certainly a situation where it is warranted, in my judgement.”

“Today, there are fewer and fewer Holocaust surivors still alive in our country and around the world,” Lewis said. “With the fading of history, more and more of our young people don’t know about the Holocaust and probably know even less about other genocides in history, like the Armenian genocide or the genocide in Cambodia or Darfur or other parts of the world.”

The other bill the Senate passed Thursday addresses professional licenses for spouses of military members serving in Massachusetts and allows the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to designate schools as “Purple Star Campuses” if they meet certain criteria showing support for military families and students.

Bill sponsor Sen. John Velis, a member of the U.S. Army Reserve, said military members typically receive orders to relocate every 24 to 36 months and military spouses move an average of six to nine times over the course of their service member’s career.

He said 34 percent of spouses of active duty military members work in occupations that require a state license, which needs to be re-issued when the family moves to a new state. Lags in re-licensing, he said, contribute to a 22 percent unemployment rate among military spouses, and that unemployment creates stress for the family and can affect a service member’s decision to remain in the military.

“By putting our military families in this challenging situation, we are greatly hurting our force retention and jeopardizing our military’s troop readiness,” Velis said. “The legislation before us today aims to address this critical issue impacting military spouses upon arriving to this Commonwealth.”

Current law requires state agencies to determine whether another state’s licensing requirements are equivalent to those in Massachusetts when considering a military spouse’s application, and the bill (S 2558) would require them to either accept the application or notify them what criteria they did not meet within 30 days, Velis said. The bill would also create a specific temporary teacher’s license for military spouses holding a valid license from another state.

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