Connecticut’s school districts will soon be required to teach students about the Holocaust.
Lawmakers passed the legislation and the governor said on Thursday morning that he has signed it, citing an increase in hate crimes and the lack of knowledge millennials have about the Holocaust.
“It is incredibly disturbing that we have seen an uptick in hate crimes and hate speech over the last year – including assault, bomb threats, and vandalism – in nearly every region across our country,” Gov. Dannel Malloy said in a statement his office released after he sign the bill into law. “Equally as disturbing are recent statistics showing that two-thirds of American millennials don’t know what Auschwitz is and 22 percent of millennials say they haven’t heard of the Holocaust. We are simply not doing enough to teach our young people the extreme and deadly mistakes of the past. Holocaust and genocide awareness are not just essential curriculum, but critical.”
While the state Department of Education had made an optional course on genocide available to districts, legislators said many have not used it.
The legislation requires local and regional school boards to include the topic in their social studies curriculum beginning with the 2018-19 school year.
“Requiring this course of study will give our students a deeper and enduring understanding of the world changing events that were the Holocaust and other modern genocides but does so in way that is age-appropriate,” Education Commissioner Dianna R. Wentzell said in a statement. “In turn, our students will take this education and awareness and use it as they develop into informed, engaged and humane participants in civic life.”
It is estimated the mandate could cost districts less than $5,000, but the legislation allows local school officials to use free, online resources and to accept grants and donations to cover the cost.
Last year, the General Assembly passed legislation making the commission of a hate crime a felony instead of a misdemeanor. Violence and threats based on a person’s gender also were deemed hate crimes. The state’s previous law only protected gender identity or expression, not gender.
“As a Holocaust survivor, educator, and spiritual leader in the Hartford community for the past 63 years, I am thrilled to see this historic legislation pass unanimously by the House and Senate and be signed into law by the Governor,” Rabbi Philip Lazowski, who serves as a chaplain to the State Senate said in the statement the governor’s office released.
“We must remember the horrors of the Holocaust and other genocides and teach our children so that such atrocities never happen again,” he added and said this is not only important for Connecticut, “but can serve as a model throughout the nation.”
Alan Levin, the regional civil rights chairman of the Connecticut Anti-Defamation League, told lawmakers last year that acts of anti-Semitic crimes had increased 34 percent nationally from 2015 to 2016, while they increased 68 percent in Connecticut during the same time period.