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Genocide education bill gaining momentum

Arguing that the world's worst mass atrocities are at risk of being forgotten by younger generations, the House passed a bill Tuesday requiring public schools to teach the history of genocides and setting up a fund to help support the new curriculum.

The bill (H 4249) cleared the branch on a 157-2 vote after representatives adopted a House Ways and Means Committee version of the bill on Monday that resembled a Senate-approved bill.

Rep. Alice Peisch, a lead sponsor of the bill, said recent events suggest knowledge of history's worst acts of violence is waning, despite the fact that genocide education is included in the state's history and social science framework.

In arguing for the bill's passage, the Wellesley Democrat recalled a quote from philosopher George Santayana: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

"This bill will ensure that the commonwealth's students are educated about genocides, making them more aware of behaviors and practices that can lead to it so that the past is not repeated," Peisch said during Tuesday's House session.

With both branches scheduled to hold formal sessions Wednesday, the legislation could reach Gov. Charlie Baker's desk as soon as then if the House and Senate can agree upon a final version.

The House plans to take up a health care bill Wednesday while the Senate is expected to consider mental health care access legislation, but other bills could surface for consideration.

Under the genocide education bill, both branches propose creating a Genocide Education Trust Fund that would help schools and districts develop curriculum and host training or professional development courses for educators. Part of the money used to seed the Trust Fund would come from fines imposed for hate crimes or civil rights violations.

The House version of the bill adds additional language to sections of Massachusetts law dealing with violations of constitutional rights and hate crimes requiring money collected from fines be deposited into the trust fund.

Both bills also require each school district to file lesson plan and program descriptions related to genocide education every year with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Schools and districts could also apply for additional programming support through a grant program established under the bill.

As the Senate prepared to take up the bill last month, Senate President Karen Spilka pitched it as a priority following reports of Duxbury High School football players using play calling terminology related to the Holocaust.

The Senate passed its version (S 2557) in late October on a 39-0 vote. At the time, Spilka said "it is dangerous to have knowledge of the Holocaust and other instances of genocide fading at the exact same time instances of hate and anti-Semitism are on the rise."

"As a Jewish woman and the daughter of a World War II veteran who saw the horrors of a concentration camp firsthand, I believe it is our responsibility to ensure we educate our children on the many instances of genocide throughout history so that they can learn why it is so important that this history is not repeated," she said in a statement released by her office.

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