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California school district condemned over 'Holocaust debate' assignment

Students in the Rialto Unified School District near Los Angeles were asked to write an essay on whether the Holocaust was "merely a political scheme created to influence public emotion." (RUSD.edu)
Students in the Rialto Unified School District near Los Angeles were asked to write an essay on whether the Holocaust was "merely a political scheme created to influence public emotion." (RUSD.edu)

(Reuters) - A California school district drew condemnation from Jewish rights groups over a writing assignment asking eighth graders to argue whether the Holocaust happened.

Students in the Rialto Unified School District near Los Angeles were asked to write an essay on whether the Holocaust was "merely a political scheme created to influence public emotion and gain," the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights group, said on Monday.

"This assignment mistakenly provides moral equivalency between history and bigotry," said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Associate Dean of the Los Angeles-based center.

Mainstream public debate about the veracity of the Holocaust, in which an estimated 6 million Jews died, is almost unheard of in the United States.

Local media said death threats were made against a school system spokeswoman and an interim superintendent after the assignment was publicized, which the Rialto Police Department could not confirm.

In what it called a clarification, the school district said on Monday in a statement on its website that there was no offensive intent in the assignment, which was designed to "exercise the use of critical thinking skills."

Media reports also said teachers would revise the assignment.

(Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by John Stonestreet)

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