An assignment asking Rialto middle school students to debate whether the Holocaust really happened has prompted death threats against school officials, the district said Monday.
The Rialto Unified School District assignment asked eighth-graders to argue whether the Holocaust "was an actual event in history or merely a political scheme created to influence public emotion and gain wealth," according to a copy obtained by NBC4.
Interim Superintendent Mohammad Z. Islam and District Spokeswoman Syeda Jafri have received death threats "verbally on tape," Jafri told NBC4 Monday.
Local news from across Southern California
Officers could be seen standing outside the school Monday in response to the threats (pictured). Jafri would not specify whether the threats were made via phone calls.
The assignment, given to the students in April, instructed them to base their argument on "multiple credible sources."
The one-page instruction sheet stated: "When tragic events occur in history, there is often debate about their actual existence. For example, some people claim the Holocaust is not an actual event, but instead is a propaganda tool that was used for political and monetary gain."
"You will read and discuss multiple, credible articles on this issue, and write an argumentative essay, based upon cited actual textual evidence, in which you explain whether or not you believe this was an actual event in history, or merely a political scheme created to influence public emotion and gain wealth. Remember to address counterclaims (rebuttals) to your stated claim," it continued.
Students were asked to read three articles provided in the assignment, including one that stated, "Even The Diary of Anne Frank is a hoax," and, "It is time we stop sacrificing America’s welfare for the sake of Israel and spend our hard-earned dollars on Americans."
The district said it would not assign the topic again.
"Our Interim Superintendent will be talking with our Educational Services Department to assure that any references to the Holocaust 'not occurring' will be stricken on any current or future argumentative research assignments," the district said in a statement posted by the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin. "The Holocaust should be taught in classrooms with sensitivity and profound consideration to the victims who endured the atrocities committed."
No students, teachers or parents complained about the assignment, which was created by district officials, Jafri told the newspaper.
"It's like asking students to make an argument that the world is flat," said Matthew Friedman, associate regional director of the Anti-Defamation League. "It's just a patently false argument and there's really no educational value there."
In 2007, the United Nations passed a resolution rejecting efforts to deny the Holocaust, efforts "which, by ignoring the historical fact of those terrible events, increase the risk they will be repeated."