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Parent upset over removal of Holocaust unit from eighth-grade ELA class at Oxford Middle School

An Oxford parent is challenging a decision by Oxford Middle and High School officials to remove a unit focused on the Holocaust and WWII literature from the English/Language Arts eighth-grade classroom.

When Shannon Sharp’s daughter heard antisemitism remarks in the seventh grade at Oxford Middle School, Sharp was reassured that by eighth grade the students would be learning about the Holocaust as it was a unit taught in the ELA class.

“It worked,” she said. “By eighth grade, it really helped curb some of those remarks and helped the students understand why it was wrong and what happened during WW II.”

However, Sharp learned recently that the unit is no longer going to be part of OMS’s curriculum.

“Though my daughter’s ELA teacher indicated that this was because the topic is ‘too depressing,’ the principal stated that it is because K-12 teachers are working to vertically align as well as collaborate with history teachers, and create as little overlap as possible,” Sharp said.

In the eighth-grade ELA class, students read the book, “Night,” by Elie Wiesel as a basis for the literature unit.

Oxford School District Superintendent Brian Harvey that after reviewing the eighth-grade social studies standards, the English teachers decided to change the reading content for the grade so that it would more closely align with these standards, which includes Mississippi Studies.

“This would allow them to do more cross-curricular activities with social studies teachers,” Harvey said.

Another factor, Harvey said, is that the Holocaust is covered as part of the ninth-grade social studies standards. “Night” will now be read as part of the ninth-grade language arts content.

“The language arts College and Career Readiness standards do not dictate which books are taught in each grade,” he said. “Teachers have the freedom to choose the literary texts. In this case, they saw value in being able to connect with what other teachers in the social studies department are covering.”

Students in the ELA class can still choose a book about the Holocaust as one of the three books they will need to read during the year, but it won’t be studied as a separate unit until the ninth-grade.

Sharp spoke against the change at the March Oxford School District Board of Trustee meeting and has since started an online petition to have the unit put back into the eighth-grade curriculum that has since garnered 220 signatures as of Friday.

Sharp said she’d like to see the Holocaust taught in the seventh grade; however, would be happy for it to remain in the eighth grade.

“In this area, kids aren’t growing up around a lot of Jewish friends,” she said. “Beyond learning facts about the Holocaust and WWII, (the unit) has taught important lessons about empathy, treating others – even those different from you – with dignity and respect, standing up for those being treated wrongly, using our voices to fight for what’s right, and being the type of citizen who never allows this to happen again. Our survivors are dying off, and it is our responsibility to pass their messages and lessons on to the next generation.”