A Shiloh Middle School social studies teacher is out of the classroom and under investigation by the Gwinnett County Public Schools after giving sixth-graders an assignment to create a colorful mascot for the Nazi Party to use at a rally in Germany in 1935.
Sloan Roach, the school system’s executive director of communication and media relations, said the assignment, which surprised and angered parents, was an unapproved effort by the teacher to fulfill the Georgia Standards of Excellence curriculum, which calls for sixth-graders to learn about Nazism, propaganda and the events that led to the Holocaust.
“Obviously any time something like this happens, it unfortunately becomes a great teachable moment for all teachers to think about the resources that are out there on the Internet,” Roach said. “Although the teacher had good intentions of trying to teach the lesson, it was not appropriate.”
The incident is one of several in public and non-Jewish private schools in the past couple of years in which Jewish students faced bullying or harassment or questionable approaches were used to teach about the Holocaust.
Allison Padilla-Goodman, the Anti-Defamation League’s Southeast regional director, said the organization is waiting to be in touch with the Snellville school, but the assignment does not seem appropriate.
She said the ADL regularly works with the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust on such issues. “They have all kinds of wonderful Holocaust education resources and how to take lessons from the Holocaust and apply them to modern day,” Padilla-Goodman said. “There are lots of resources out there, but how much access the school has had will be part of our response to this school. So many schools are doing great things as far as Holocaust education goes, but that’s because they take it seriously and the entire school really cares and is committed to having students learn about this tremendous event in our history. So it’s kind of up to the school on their approach and their priorities.”
Roach said social studies teachers in Gwinnett are provided materials from a database that includes lessons vetted and taught by other teachers in the county.
“We understand that teachers may often have ideas or certain ways they may want to teach things, but there is a process at the local school level on how to do so,” she said.
Roach said the Shiloh principal, Eli Welch, has used the situation to talk to the staff to make sure everyone is on the same page on what processes faculty members should follow. He also spoke to the parents who initially complained about the assignment.
The situation enables the system to ensure “teachers are aware of what’s out there and using what’s provided by the district for them,” Roach said. “We are always looking at ways we can improve our curriculum and always conduct an annual review, which is a built-in process.”
School counselors have been available to meet with any students upset about the assignment.
“They’re there every day; however, in situations such as this, they are obviously more in tune and looking to see if a student is interested or needs to talk about something,” Roach said.
She would not comment on what might happen to the teacher. “We want to make sure that we have addressed the situation appropriately and in the way it needs to be addressed.”
Danielle Cohen, a co-founder of the Atlanta Initiative Against Anti-Semitism, said such incidents are the reason AIAAS has scheduled an education-focused forum called TASK (Tackling Anti-Semitism for Our Kids) on Wednesday, Nov. 8.
“We hear about these kinds of situations and incidents almost daily now,” she said. “I think there are always ways to enhance education, empathy, character building, and social and emotional learning, which we are hoping to accomplish.”
A Positive Public School Moment
Renee Evans (left), a Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta advisory board member, and Joanne Birnbrey (right), the chair of Federation’s 2018 Integrated Community Campaign, present the special Jewish Engagement Community Award to (from left) parent Beth Gaan, Johns Creek High School Principal Jimmy Zoll, Fulton County Schools Assistant Superintendent Christopher Matthews, Rabbi Chaim Neiditch of Jewish Student Union and Johns Creek Assistant Principal Carlton Harris on Sept. 27. Also honored was Fulton Board of Education member Linda McCain. Each was recognized for the school’s quick response to a bullying situation that bordered on anti-Semitism. “I have never experienced a group of individuals from a school system jump into action, achieving excellence for not only one family, but all special education students in Fulton County,” Evans said. “It was exceptional, showing the value of collaborating in a caring, focused way.”