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US school district bosses voiced regret Tuesday for a writing assigment asking teenage students to discuss whether the Holocaust really happened, while saying it aimed to develop "critical thinking skills."
The Rialto Unified School District in California asked 8th graders to write an essay about whether the Holocaust was not actually "merely a political scheme created to influence public emotions and gain wealth."
The district's interim head, Mohammad Z. Islam, took action to withdraw the assignment as soon as he learned about it, spokeswoman Syeda Jafri told AFP.
"When the interim Superintendent and I became aware of this essay, from the Educational Services Dept., immediate action was taken to eliminate this writing prompt due to the harsh, inaccurate wordage," she wrote in an email.
"We will begin to continue to teach the importance of the holocaust with compassion and sensitivity. We deeply regret the pain that this may have caused," she added.
The Anti Defamation League, a Jewish lobby body, slammed the assignment.
"It is ADL's general position that an exercise asking students to question whether the Holocaust happened has no academic value; it only gives legitimacy to the hateful and anti-Semitic promoters of Holocaust Denial," said its regional boss Matthew Friedman in a letter to the district.
"ADL does not have any evidence that the assignment was given as part of a larger, insidious, agenda. Rather, the district seems to have given the assignment with an intent, although misguided, to meet Common Core standards relating to critical learning skills," added an ADL statement.
"ADL has thanked the district for its quick response to this matter and offered further assistance" including teacher training, it added.
In a statement Monday the schools district said: "The intent of the writing prompt was to exercise the use of critical thinking skills. There was no offensive intent in the crafting of this assignment. We regret that the prompt was misinterpreted."
"We appreciate the suggestions of the Anti-Defamation League, as we have shared goals when it comes to our students and our community," it added.