The perimeter fence of the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz. (Courtesy photo)
The perimeter fence of the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz. (Courtesy photo)

Parents, DCPS officials and members of the D.C. Council continue to express both shock and anger, with allegations confirmed that on Friday, Dec. 17, the library media specialist at Watkins Elementary School in Southeast led third graders in a frightening reenactment of the Holocaust.

Several parents reported that when their children came home from school on Friday, they appeared upset with some even crying. The children, all third graders, said during class at the library, they had to pretend to relive the horrors suffered by Jewish men, women at the hands of the Nazis during the Holocaust.

Activities in which they were forced to participate included: suffocating in a gas chamber; pretending to ride the trains leading to the gas chambers; shooting hordes of innocent people; and for one student, allegedly a Jewish boy, pretending to be Adolf Hitler and committing suicide, replicating the German leader’s final act.

While DCPS has declined to confirm the identity of the employee, several publications, including The New York Times, have identified the staff member as Kimberlynn Jurkowski.

She remains on leave according to a DCPS spokesperson while officials continue to investigate mounting allegations and complaints.

According to the Washington Teachers Union [WTU], the staff member, a librarian, counts as a member of the union and despite the seriousness of the charges, “has a right to due process.”

“That’s why the WTU supports a through investigation,” a STU spokesperson told a WUSA9 reporter on Monday.

Disturbing Details Coming to Light

The principal of Watkins Elementary, M. Scott Berkowitz, emailed a note to parents Friday evening to explain the “incident of hate and bias.”

“Earlier today, we received a report of a classroom of students receiving a lesson that included portraying different perspectives of the Holocaust,” Berkowitz wrote. “Students should never be tasked with acting out any atrocity, especially genocide and war. Additionally, there were allegations of a staff member using hate speech during the lesson, which is unacceptable and not tolerated at our school.”

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum provides a history lesson for all Americans. (Courtesy photo)

Even before Friday’s incident, several disturbing aspects had come to light at the school including Jurkowski’s allegedly questionable teaching history compile in her former state of residence, New Jersey, as well as her being charged for the inhumane treatment of animals.

Berkowitz sent another email to the school community on Sunday, praising the students for reporting the incident and “courageously advocating for themselves which enabled processing to start as soon as it did.”

The principal, who could not be reached for comment, conducted a virtual meeting on Monday, Dec. 20 with the DCPS hate and bias response team for parents and caregivers of children impacted by the lesson.

In addition, Berkowitz announced that he would lead a school-wide meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 22.

Ward 5 Councilmember Charles Allen, who represents the Capitol Hill community in which the school is located, expressed his concerns in a letter to DCPS Chancellor Lewis Ferebee.

“The antisemitism and hatred described by students has no place in the District of Columbia and the hate and harm caused by these actions are difficult to put into words,” Allen wrote.

Additionally, Allen has questioned Ferebee about whether the instructor had been subjected to a thorough background check prior to her hiring, if DCPS had been aware of her alleged criminal charges, convictions and teaching license revocation and how DCPS determined her suitability, if the information had been known by officials prior to her being hired.

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson described the event as “shocking and beyond belief.”

“What happened cannot be undone but what DCPS does about it now is critical,” Mendelson wrote in a statement.

But in the most scathing of criticisms, Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyon R. McDuffie released the following comments in a press release on Monday.

“The actions of the staff member who orchestrated this farce are disgusting,” McDuffie said. “There is obviously no educational value in this exercise. Rather, children were used as pawns in a demented, anti-Semitic charade.”

“Human history is marred by atrocities and we must never forget them but careful consideration must be given to how we present these difficult subjects to students.”

“I am calling on leadership at Watkins Elementary, DCPS Chancellor Ferebee and the State Superintendent of Education to thoroughly investigate this matter, ensure that it was an isolated incident and determine if proper background checks were conducted on the staff member assigned to care for these students.”

“Nothing like this should ever happen again. The school must also take immediate steps to evaluate any emotional trauma or distress that the students may have suffered and provide counseling or other appropriate services.”

“Every staff member responsible for allowing this horrible incident to occur must be held accountable. We have a collective responsibility to protect children and, when necessary, to punish those who harm them intentionally or recklessly,” he said.

D. Kevin McNeir – Senior Editor

Dominic Kevin McNeir is an award-winning journalist with more than 25 years of service for the Black Press (NNPA). Prior to moving East to assist his aging parents in their struggles with Alzheimer’s,...

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.