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Arkansas bill to create Holocaust Education Week headed to House for a vote

By: - February 2, 2023 2:35 pm
Visitors at the Birkenau Museum view the many faces of the men, women and children who died at the Auschwitz II – death camp. (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

A bill to create a Holocaust Education Week in Arkansas schools passed the House Education Committee on Feb. 2, 2023. (Photo of visitors to the Birkenau Museum in Poland by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

A bill to establish Holocaust Education Week in Arkansas public schools unanimously passed the House Education Committee on Thursday and will go to the House for approval.

Senate Bill 68 amends state law that requires Holocaust education to designate the last full week of classes in January as Holocaust Education Week.  The bill unanimously passed the Senate Education Committee on Jan. 25 and the full Senate on Monday.

The United Nations has designated Jan. 27, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The Holocaust, also known as the Shoah, refers to the systematic murder of about 6 million Jews across Nazi-occupied Europe during World War II.

If approved by the House and by Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the State Board of Education would be required to notify public schools of the dates annually and encourage schools to teach about the Holocaust during that week. The bill gives school districts the flexibility to add those lessons to a different week of the year if need be, Rep. DeAnn Vaught (R-Horatio), the bill’s House sponsor, told the Education Committee.

Rep. DeAnn Vaught (R-Horatio)
Rep. DeAnn Vaught (R-Horatio)

Steve Ronnel, a member of the Holocaust Education Living Proposal Committee, was the sole witness in favor of the bill. The committee helped draft legislation passed by Sen. Jim Dotson (R-Bentonville) during the 2021 legislative session, that required Holocaust education be taught in public schools beginning with the 2022-2023 school year.

Ronnel told the Education Committee that the liberation of Auschwitz “exposed the atrocities of the Nazis to the world and helped bring home why the Greatest Generation fought for freedom and against tyranny in World War II.”

Dotson is Senate Bill 68’s primary sponsor, and 11 other senators signed on as co-sponsors, eight Republicans and three Democrats.

Senate Minority Leader Greg Leding (D-Fayetteville), one of the co-sponsors, asked Dotson in the Senate Education Committee on Jan. 25 if Senate Bill 68 would conflict with Sanders’ executive order to prohibit indoctrination and critical race theory in schools. Dotson said it would not.

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Tess Vrbin
Tess Vrbin

Tess Vrbin came to the Advocate from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, where she reported on low-income housing and tenants' rights, and won awards for her coverage of 2021 flooding and tornado damage in rural Arkansas. She previously covered local government for The Commercial Dispatch in Mississippi and state government for the Columbia Daily Tribune in Missouri.