Suit challenges how Armenian genocide is taught

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A high school senior and two teachers have become unlikely allies with a group of Turkish Americans in a federal lawsuit against the Massachusetts Department of Education over its curriculum on the Armenian genocide.

The student and teachers said yesterday that they don't necessarily agree with a small group of historians who contend that the slaughter of more than a million Armenians by Turks during World War I wasn't genocide.

The case is about censorship, they say, and what they see as state education officials buckling to political pressure and deliberately omitting opposing viewpoints from its course materials about one of the worst massacres in world history.

''I think history teachers have a responsibility to teach students many perspectives of historical events, particularly events that are controversial today," said Ted Griswold, a Lincoln-Sudbury High School senior, who joined the Assembly of Turkish American Associations as a plaintiff in the suit filed Wednesday in US District Court in Boston.

The suit alleges that the Department of Education, its commissioner, David P. Driscoll, and board chairman James A. Peyser, violated the civil rights of free speech and due process by eliminating material from the curriculum that challenged whether the massacre was a genocide.

The Massachusetts Legislature passed a bill in 1998 that required the Department of Education to create guidelines for a high school curriculum on genocide and human rights issues, including the Holocaust, the Irish potato famine, the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and the Armenian genocide.

But after initially including dissenting views from Turkish groups and historians, education officials removed those materials from the curriculum when they received a letter of protest from the bill's sponsor, Senator Steven A. Tolman, a Brighton Democrat.

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