By Bob Katzen

The House and Senate, on a voice vote without a roll call, approved and sent to Gov. Charlie Baker a bill requiring public schools to educate middle and high school students on the history of genocide.

The measure also establishes a Genocide Education Trust Fund to help fund the teaching. The funds would come from the Legislature, private and public gifts and grants and revenue from fines imposed for hate crimes.

Supporters cited a 2020 survey, commissioned by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, which gauged Holocaust knowledge and found that 63 percent of Millennials and the Generation Z population, did not know six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust. The survey also found that nearly half were unfamiliar with Nazi concentration camps like Auschwitz.

“While racial, ethnic, national and religious violence has existed throughout the past and continues in the present, recent events suggest our collective knowledge of some of history’s worst atrocities is waning,” said Rep. Alice Peisch (D-Wellesley), House Chair of the Committee on Education. “It is our responsibility to take steps to ensure we do not forget the past so that we can continue to build a better future, while still respecting the ability of individual school districts to shape the curricula of their students.”

“With this law, we can arm our students with the knowledge they will need to recognize the warning signs and feel empowered to prevent genocides in the future,” said Rep. Jeff Roy (D-Franklin), the sponsor of the measure. “Making genocide education a mandatory topic for teaching in our schools is a reaffirmation of the commitment of free people from all nations to never again permit the occurrence of another genocide and to deter indifference to crimes against humanity and human suffering wherever they occur.”

“It is very important that the history of genocide is taught in our schools,” said Rep. Kelly Pease (R-Westfield) one of the two representatives who opposes the bill. “However all the genocides that were discussed for the bill are already covered by Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) curriculum. If there are shortcomings in how it is taught then that should be addressed, but not by setting up a separate fund that includes money from public and private sources such as gifts, grants and donations. DESE has already established the curriculum, why is more public and private money needed?”

Rep. Peter Durant (R-Spencer), the only other representative to oppose the bill, did not respond to repeated requests by Beacon Hill Roll Call to comment on his opposition.

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