Arkansas schools would observe Holocaust Education Week if bill becomes law
The Senate Education Committee approved a bill on Wednesday to establish Holocaust Education Week in Arkansas public schools.
Sponsored by Sen. Jim Dotson (R-Bentonville), SB68 amends state law that requires Holocaust education to designate the last full week of classes in January as Holocaust Education Week. If approved, the State Board of Education would be required to notify public schools of the dates annually and encourage schools to teach about the Holocaust during that week.
The United Nations has designated Jan. 27, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The Holocaust, also known as the Shoah, refers to the systematic murder of about 6 million Jews across Nazi-occupied Europe during World War II.
Sen. Greg Leding (D-Fayetteville) asked if the legislation would conflict with Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ executive order to prohibit indoctrination and critical race theory in schools. Sen. Dotson said it would not.
The committee unanimously approved the bill, which now heads to the Senate.
The bill builds on legislation passed by Dotson during the 2021 legislative session, which required Holocaust education be taught in public schools beginning with the 2022-2023 school year.
Dotson also filed a bill on Tuesday that would define the term “antisemitism” when determining whether there has been a violation of law or policy prohibiting discriminatory acts or practices based on race, religion, ethnicity or national origin.
In addition to SB68, the committee approved two House bills on Wednesday.
HB1017 would allow a school district to provide up to 15 days of paid leave per calendar year for United States Civil Air Patrol or U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary members who take a leave of absence for the purpose of participating in a training program or in emergency and rescue services.
According to a fiscal impact statement, that would cost districts up to $1,500 per substitute teacher if an employee takes all 15 days, Senate sponsor Joshua Bryant (R-Rogers) said.
HB1122 would change the start dates for the school year. Beginning with the 2023-2024 school year, the first day of public schools would be on or after the Monday of the week in which Aug. 19 falls, but not earlier than Aug. 14 and not later than Aug. 26.
During the 2021 session, legislators passed a bill that prohibited public schools from beginning earlier than the Monday two weeks before Labor Day. Senate sponsor Ken Hammer (R-Benton) said HB1122 would address unintended consequences of the previous bill.
“The bill as it was passed last time created some hardships on schools because what was happening was they weren’t able to start, therefore they weren’t able to finish their session until after Christmas, which really creates some hardships as far as educational loss for things coming back,” Hammer said.
The Senate Education Committee unanimously approved HB1122 and HB1017. If approved by the full House, they’ll head to the governor’s desk.