DCPS investigating alleged Holocaust re-enactments at Watkins Elementary

D.C. Public Schools has confirmed that a staff member at Watkins Elementary in Southeast has been placed on leave pending an investigation into alleged Holocaust re-enactments.

Officials for DCPS acknowledged that the staff member had been placed on leave, but did not confirm to WTOP if the instructor was placed on paid or unpaid leave.

In a letter provided to the community on Friday, Watkins Elementary Principal Scott Berkowitz said he was made aware of a lesson that included students “portraying different perspectives of the Holocaust.”

“Students should never be tasked with acting out any atrocity, especially genocide and war,” Berkowitz said.

The statement included allegations that a staff member “used hate speech during the lesson.” While the letter did not elaborate on these claims, or the language used, DCPS did issue an apology.

“This was not an approved lesson plan, and we sincerely apologize to our students and families who were subjected to this incident,” the school system said.

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson is urging the school system to investigate the incident. He said he wrote to the Chancellor of D.C. public schools early Monday morning but hasn’t heard back.

“It’s been rightfully universally condemned,” Mendelson said in a statement. “What is important, now, is what DCPS is going to do about it.”

“How thoroughly will DCPS investigate key factors around this incident: what enabled the librarian to think this was appropriate?  How did the librarian come to DCPS in the first place?  What corrective actions will be taken in response?  How is DCPS addressing the ill effects this incident may have had on the students at Watkins?”

D.C. council member Janesse George, who represents Ward 4, tweeted that she was disturbed by the incident.

As with other cases involving potential hate and bias, Berkowitz said last week’s incident was reported to DCPS’ Central Equity Response Team.

“No matter the intent of an incident, we are always required to report it so that we can move forward to restore our community and repair harm,” said Berkowitz.

According to DCPS, students who were involved in the class are being supported by the DCPS Comprehensive Alternative Resolution & Equity Team.

WTOP’s Lauren Hamilton contributed to this story.

Ivy Lyons

Ivy Lyons is a digital journalist for WTOP.com. Since 2018, they have worked on Capitol Hill, at NBC News in Washington, and with WJLA in Washington.

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