Saturday, July 20, 2024

Holocaust education bill dies

More work needed with stakeholders to define issues


OLYMPIA - An effort to make Holocaust and genocide education mandatory in Washington public schools has failed to win enough support to pass in this year’s Legislature.

"We've been trying diligently to reach out to stakeholders to get agreed upon wording that would make this workable and fundable,” said Sen. Lisa Wellman, D-Mercer Island, Chair of the Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee. “This bill just needs more time to be worked through.”

Sponsored by Rep. Travis Couture, R-Allyn, HB 2037 and its companion bill in the Senate received a lot of testimony during public hearings. 

Over 2,000 people registered to testify in its early days. Survivors of genocide, activists, and students spoke in general support of the idea but voiced concern about a lack of inclusivity. 

On Feb. 10, the bill was debated on the floor of the House, and an amendment was introduced by Democrats, which caught Couture and his Republican counterparts off-guard. 

The amendment called for collaboration from non-profit groups beyond the Jewish community and the inclusion of other genocides. 

The bill said any curriculum should include “diasporic communities with lived experiences of surviving, being made refugees by, or otherwise being directly impacted by genocide.”

“Jewish people were already removed from their homeland when they were in Europe and then systematically destroyed during the Holocaust,” Couture said, referring to Israel. “So, they were not ‘made refugees by’ anything.”

Rep. Drew Stokesbary, R-Auburn, said that while he supports the goal of inclusivity by Democrats, he worried this could unintentionally have negative impacts, presumably referencing current events. 

“I’m concerned about the potential politicization of the concept of the bill,” Stokesbary said. “My concern is that the policy contained in the bill could inadvertently lead to folks being accused of genocide who have not actually committed genocide.”

After the amendment was adopted, Stokesbary urged a vote yes on the bill but re-emphasized his opinions about the amendment. 

“Jewish people deserve a homeland, but the Holocaust is not what drove them from that and my concern is that this amendment detracts from that important and historical fact,” Stokebary said.

Wellman said many people did not feel comfortable voting in favor of the bill without “agreeable language.” 

“I tried to shut down any discussion of current events relating to the bill,” Wellman said. “When you get into politics that may happen in the classroom, that was not the intention of running this bill.”

Wellman said that she spoke with Sen. John Braun, R-Centrailia, who introduced the Senate version of the bill. She said lawmakers intend to continue this work.
“We intend to work through it, and hopefully bring back a solution that better addresses the issue,” Wellman said. “Part of the problem with a bill that is both an important topic to be discussed in education, but it's also something that is very much happening in the moment. And getting those conflated can be challenging, dangerous and uncomfortable.”


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