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Nevada History Day teaching material stirs controversy

Michael Kagan was helping his daughter with an essay assignment when he saw something in the instructional materials that jumped out at him.

His daughter, a student at Johnson Middle School, had a handout on how to write a good thesis with this example: “Even though Thomas Jefferson had slaves, he showed that he valued every human being in his words and actions.”

Kagan was alarmed at what he called the “implicitly offensive” statement.

“There are 100 things you could write,” he said. “I don’t know why you would choose that one, and I was alarmed by that.”

Kagan, who has two African-American children adopted from Ethiopia, said the example makes it seem that black people don’t count as human beings.

The material was made available online through the National History Day program in Nevada, part of a national initiative to engage students in history that includes an annual national research contest.

Kagan said he was even more alarmed to learn that the material was being put out statewide and that multiple reputable institutions sponsor the Nevada History Day program.

The Clark County School District said in a statement that it did not create the instructional material. Its logo was removed from the website — which has since been taken down.

“Staff in our Curriculum and Professional Development Division are reviewing the Nevada History Day program,” district spokeswoman Kirsten Searer said in a statement. “… Additionally, teachers will receive communication focusing on district policy and regulation regarding instructional materials and teaching related to controversial issues.”

Kagan called the moves a positive step in the right direction, but he still wants more answers.

Among other things, he would like to know whether the district thinks “that this was an appropriate teaching tool to hand out to middle school students,” he said.

The coordinator for the program, Cynthia Laframboise of the Nevada State Library, Archives and Public Records Division, said the document on how to write a thesis was taken down on Tuesday. By Wednesday, the entire Nevada History Day website was no longer operating.

Tod Colegrove, administrator of the division, said Laframboise reached out to the national National History Day organization to discuss the issue and he intends to figure out how to address the concerns and move forward.

Kim Fortney, deputy director of National History Day, said she did not know where the material came from, as states may control their own websites.

But she said the people at National History Day were horrified when they heard about the example.

“It’s completely inappropriate,” she said. “We completely understand why the parent is offended and why his children are offended and we are very troubled by it.”

Contact Amelia Pak-Harvey at apak-harvey@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4630. Follow @AmeliaPakHarvey on Twitter.

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