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History teachers miss class to fulfill public records request

Families with students in the affected classes received emails such as this one explaining the situation.

by Carolyn McDonald and Yesha Thakkar

History teachers missed classes Monday, Dec. 10 due to a public records request by Americans for Peace and Tolerance (APT), which asked history teachers to present all curriculum used to teach the Holocaust and Nazism, according to principal Henry Turner.  

The public records request on Monday—the 16th time this year by the APT—came after a public hearing Nov. 27 about bias in the history curriculum and multiple public records request. Over the summer, the APT requested to see a chain of emails between history teacher David Bedar, the teacher of Middle East, Asia, and Latin America (MEALA) and other history teachers.

Many feel that the APT is targeting Newton Public Schools and its teachers. “It’s incredible that they would go to that level, and so it’s going to warrant that amount of time,” Turner said.

History teachers were required to print or provide a PDF of the materials used in class. Bedar was out of class for three days of school to fill these requests, while other teachers missed one block of class each.

Turner added that the teachers do not have anything to hide from the APT. “We feel very strongly that our teachers are doing a good job in terms of being thoughtful about ways to get [students] to problem solve around these topics.”

Michael Zilles, President of the Newton Teachers Association, said the situation is affecting Newton teachers. “The public records request is intended to harass and intimidate teachers,” he said. “We don’t want to teach with the kind of bias they want to teach with.”

Zilles added that he is advising teachers during the records request process. “It’s something that we have to do, you do it carefully,” he said. “My advice is to not let it get under their skin.”

Compiling curriculum is not an easy task since most of the materials are not online, according to Turner.  Some people ask us why we don’t just provide our curriculum online, but we don’t have a set curriculum in that way,” Turner said. “Every year for every course, there’s going to be different materials developed.”

According to senior Natasha Sharma, who takes MEALA, Bedar’s class has taught them to look at different perspectives and think critically. She said, “I’ve been challenged to expand my views. Everyone takes something away from this class.”

Senior Maia Alberts, who also takes MEALA, said, “He’s not enforcing his opinions on us; he’s just presenting different perspectives.” She added that the class is gaining popularity because the material covered in class is very relevant to current events. There are now three sections of the class instead of two.

North students and alumni responded to the bias claims by attending the committee hearing in November to show support and asking questions in class. Alberts said that she believes North students can show their support for their teachers and be involved with the controversy in many ways.

“Send letters to people who support the curriculum, show support for your teachers, go to the hearings and learn more about the controversy,” she said. “We are the future, so it’s important for us to retain the values that our teachers are trying to protect.”

According to Alberts the request and the curriculum controversy is creating a closer community at North. “It’s really brought us together. It goes to show that we stand in solidarity with this curriculum and its values,” she said.

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