A staff librarian at Watkins Elementary School in Washington D.C. was placed on administrative leave after a shocking history lesson that had third grade students reenact key moments of the Holocaust. According to The Washington Post, students returned home and told their parents that they instructed to participate by digging mass graves and simulate shootings.

The staff member was not named, but Principal MScott Berkowitz confirmed on Friday that the instructor was placed under investigation.

An email shared with parents by Principal Berkowitz explained that the librarian cast a Jewish student to portray Hitler and told him to pretend to commit suicide at the end of the lesson. One student told his parents that he was asked to pretend to be on a train headed to a concentration camp, while another was instructed to pretend that he was dying in a gas chamber.

“I want to acknowledge the gravity of this poor instructional decision, as students should never be tasked to act out or portray any atrocity, especially genocide, war or murder,” Principal Berkowitz wrote in an email to Watkins Elementary School parents. “In no way is this lesson supported by the school’s leadership or [District of Columbia Public Schools] curriculum.”

According to The New York Times, third graders at the school were working on some sort of self-directed research project that was supposed to be presented before winter break but were instead directed to perform the horrific Holocaust reenactment. It was not reported if that project was WWII-related or tied to the Holocaust in any way.

Back in 2017, students at Watkins Elementary reenacted Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

Watkins Elementary School students reenacting Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous I Have a Dream speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial
Watkins Elementary School students reenacting Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous I Have a Dream speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Investigating how this event took place, Berkowitz revealed that the librarian reportedly made antisemitic statements during the lesson, though none was specifically addressed. A parent of one of the 8-year-old third graders later told The Washington Post that their child told them that the instructor said that the Germans killed Jewish people “because the Jews ruined Christmas.”

One third grade student also identified the librarian as Kimberlynn Jurkowski, who has been a library specialist at the school for over seven years, but a spokesman for the District of Columbia Public Schools did not confirm that she was the librarian who led the offensive Holocaust lesson.

“This was not an approved lesson plan,” the school district’s spokesman said, “and we sincerely apologize to our students and families who were subjected to this incident.”

According to The New York Times, Kimberlynn Jurkowski has also not responded to requests for comment. She was investigated by another school district previously, however, when she was convicted of defrauding the Hamilton Township School District, in New Jersey, out of nearly $24,000. The school allegedly agreed to pay for her two children’s tutoring fees, but she continued to bill the school for months after the lessons stopped. Jurkowski has yet to be confirmed as the librarian placed on leave for the Holocaust lesson.

One student told their homeroom teacher that the librarian also asked them not to tell anyone about the lesson, but they decided to anyway. The entire class allegedly met with the school’s mental health response team after the incident, and the D.C. Public Schools’ Comprehensive Alternative Resolution and Equity Team is investigating further steps.

Washington D.C. has faced many antisemitic incidents over the past few weeks in its public school system. Earlier this month, Woodrow Wilson High School in D.C. found hate speech scribbled all over one of its men’s bathrooms, including four swastikas, the “N-word” and the phrase “white power.”

“Hate and bigotry have no place in our community,” said Woodrow Wilson’s Interim Principal Gregory Bargeman. “We are committed to working hard to make certain that Wilson’s environment embodies kindness, equity, diversity, and inclusion.”