Speaking with a Holocaust survivor was never part of the lesson plan for Okatie Elementary School’s social studies courses.
That has changed in the wake of school principal Jamie Pinckney posting photos of two fifth-graders dressed as saluting Adolf Hitlers to the school’s Facebook page last month, shocking many in the Jewish community and beyond.
Pinckney removed the offending photos within hours and apologized on Facebook three days later. She also delivered an in-person apology to the Beaufort County Board of Education at its Tuesday night meeting.
“I do want to apologize for anyone that was offended,” she said. “That was never our intent. It was a valuable learning lesson and a rude awakening in how far social media spread ... This is not the way the project was supposed to go.”
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Her apology was met with applause from the audience.
Rabbi Brad Bloom, rabbi of Congregation Beth Yam on Hilton Head Island, stood beside her at the podium. He made his own statement thanking the administration for their support and courage.
Just days after Jan. 26 when the photos were posted and removed within hours, Bloom called the school’s actions and “cover-up,” a “blind spot ... in the moral character of the administration.”
He tempered his comments Tuesday, mentioning a meeting Pinckney arranged with him and superintendent Jeff Moss to discuss changes in the curriculum.
“We sat down like leaders outside of the media in the privacy of Principal Pinckney’s office,” he said. “... We have a lot of work to do in teaching history and teaching it in a sensitive way. I think this is the way you take lemons and turn it into lemonade.”
Along with meeting a Holocaust survivor, another addition to Okatie Elementary students’ history lesson is hearing a district high school student speak about a trip spent in Poland studying the Holocaust.
A field trip to a Savannah area World War II museum is also planned, though it was scheduled before the “wax museum.”
Bloom said his collaboration with Okatie Elementary could eventually become a model for other district elementary schools in the district to teach tolerance and understanding.