A high-school English teacher in Albany, N.Y., faces disciplinary action for giving a writing assignment that asked students to make a persuasive argument blaming Jews for the problems of Nazi Germany, Albany school district officials said Friday.
Superintendent Marguerite Vanden Wyngaard said administrators were discussing what official action the unidentified 10th-grade teacher at Albany High School would face for the assignment given to students on Monday. It could range from a letter of counsel to dismissal.
The assignment, first reported Friday by the Albany Times Union, asked students to research Nazi propaganda, then assume their teacher was a Nazi government official who had to be convinced of their loyalty. The assignment told students they "must argue that Jews are evil and use solid rationale from government propaganda to convince me of your loyalty to the Third Reich!"
"This assignment for some of our students at Albany High School was completely unacceptable. It displayed a level of insensitivity that we absolutely will not tolerate in our school community," Wyngaard said at a news conference Friday at the United Jewish Federation. "I'm deeply apologetic to all of our students, all of our families and the entire community."
Wyngaard spoke in a room full of books on the Holocaust and was flanked by school board officials and representatives of Jewish organizations. Speakers said the Anti-Defamation League would run sensitivity programs at the school for staff and students.
"After this unfortunate lesson we know that the Albany School District [officials] will rededicate themselves to teaching about how prejudice led to genocide and to help their students build a better community," said Shelly Shapiro, director of the Holocaust Survivors and Friends Education Center.
School officials say they do not believe the teacher who handed out the assignment had malicious intent. The purpose of the assignment was to have students make an argument based on limited information, but it should have been worded differently, officials said.
The school district has not named the teacher, who was described as a veteran. The assignment was brought to administrators' attention by a parent of one of the students. Some students refused to write the assignment.
Earlier this year, a teacher at Public School 59 in Manhattan caused a controversy by giving fourth-graders a math homework assignment that used scenarios about killing and whipping slaves. The school's principal ordered sensitivity training for the entire staff.