FCPS Explains Opt-Out Notification for Holocaust Speaker

FCPS Explains Opt-Out Notification for Holocaust Speaker

FCPS and Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington share insights.

Cooper Middle School in McLean, a Fairfax County Public School

Cooper Middle School in McLean, a Fairfax County Public School

Against the backdrop of rising antisemitism in the county, state, and across the U.S., the release of an electronic letter from a Fairfax County Cooper Middle School assistant principal to 7th-grade families, with an offer to opt their children out of the March 18 Holocaust speaker presentation, apparently misled some. 

FCPS released an explanation on March 22, and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington responded to “erroneous”  media reports the day after the presentation.

“We apologize if this notification led anyone to believe that we do not value these important learning opportunities, which Cooper Middle School has been providing for many years,” an FCPS spokesperson said in a March 22 email to The Connection. 

The day after the presentation, on March 19, Guila Franklin Siegel, associate director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, responded to those media reports and provided her insights in “JCRC Statement on Holocaust Survivor Presentation at Cooper Middle School.” The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington coordinated the visit from Holocaust survivor Col. Frank Cohn.

“Recent media reports have suggested that Cooper School officials offered an opt-out to excuse non-Jewish students from learning about the Holocaust. These reports are erroneous,“ Siegel wrote. She added that FCPS noted the same. “The opt-out was designed for Jewish families “due to Jewish children in the past being subjected to bullying, teasing, taunting, and other forms of unacceptable behavior, specifically during Holocaust-related lessons and programming,” according to Siegel. 

Siegel added that no Cooper student requested to opt out of the program based on the subject matter. “Indeed, students lined up after the presentation to get Col. Cohn’s autograph. That speaks to the welcoming and inclusive atmosphere that Cooper created today, a culture which must be replicated in every school,” she wrote.

In her initial March 11 letter to families, the assistant principal wrote, ”Students in History 7 are currently learning about World War II, which includes a lesson focused on the Holocaust. Cooper has engaged a Holocaust survivor to visit and speak to our 7th-grade students. This year’s speaker is Ruth Cohen … If you prefer to opt your child out of participating in this presentation, please email your child’s teacher, and they will be provided an alternate assignment.”

According to the FCPS spokesperson, Cooper Middle School in McLean “invited a Holocaust survivor as a guest speaker to talk with students as a supplement to classroom learning about the Holocaust and World War II.” She noted that some years ago, several Jewish students at Cooper Middle School voiced anxiety about the visit, so they partnered with parents to work with them. 

“They [the families] could make the best decision on behalf of their child,”  the spokesperson for FCPS wrote. “To be clear, students are not able to opt out of our lessons about the Holocaust, which are part of the social studies seventh-grade curriculum,” she wrote and provided the 2024 FCPS 2023-234 Grades K-8 Opt Forms. According to FCPS, the Holocaust is included in the Virginia Department of Education History and Social Science Standards. “The learning objectives around the Holocaust are a required part of the curriculum,” said the FCPS spokesperson.

Holocaust-specific “important learning opportunities” refer to the ”supplemental learning opportunities” to hear directly from a Holocaust survivor “after students complete FCPS curriculum lessons on World War II and the Holocaust.” The school letter by the administrator indicated an opt-out for “the speaker's visit, which enhances classroom learning,” the spokesperson clarified.

The Cooper Middle School administrator's published letter erroneously stated, “This year’s speaker is Ruth Cohen.” An FCPS spokesperson noted that “Col. Frank Cohn spoke.”

According to FCPS, it will continue to work with administrators and educators to prepare all students for comparable learning experiences so they feel comfortable in these programs and understand behavioral standards.

“We hope this message clears up any confusion, and we are grateful to continue our work partnering with the Jewish Community Relations Council to offer this meaningful learning experience for our students and families,” the FCPS spokesperson said.

ADL H.E.A.T. (Hate, Extremism, Anti-semitism, Terror)  map is updated monthly. The green bubbles are a compilation of the most recent cases of anti-Jewish vandalism, harassment, and assault that may be viewed at the ADL Tracker.