A Sunland-Tujunga school was a driving force behind the motion.
The governing board of the Los Angeles Unified School District on Tuesday passed a resolution granting special recognition to the memory of the Armenian Genocide, a day before members of the Armenian community commemorate the extermination of 1.5 million Armenians during the fall of the Ottoman Empire starting in 1915.
The resolution asks district Superintendent Austin Beutner to explore the possibility of making April 24 a school holiday and instituting a professional development program on the historical event, which comes as a boon to the significant student population of Armenian descent in the district largely centered in the San Fernando Valley.
Board member Kelly Gonez put forward the resolution as part of a response to lobbying efforts by local Armenian families and Armenian organizations, in particular parents at Mountain View Elementary in Sunland-Tujunga. The school’s principal estimated her student population is 85% of Armenian descent, in addition to being home to the district’s first dual language program in Armenian.
“This resolution is about commemorating and remembering the first genocide of the 20th century, as we do every year in LA Unified,” said Gonez at Tuesday’s meeting. “But we are also seeking ways to deepen instruction so that every student, regardless of their heritage, learns about the genocide and its impact on the Armenian community and on global history.”
Superintendent Beutner has 120 days to report back with a plan to “better accommodate” Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, potentially designating April 24 as ‘pupil-free’ or ‘unassigned’ day in future years — similar to consideration given on Yom Kippur for Jewish students. The details of a professional development program are also left for him to configure.
Board members, three of whom signed onto the resolution as co-sponsors, expressed firm support for education on genocide and human rights. Student board member Tyler Okeke noted that as a senior at Harbor Teacher Preparation Academy, he had yet to learn about the Armenian Genocide.
A group of families and professional stakeholders in the resolution arrived to the school board meeting Tuesday, many of whom gave emotional tributes expressing their family’s story of survival and gratitude to the board and member Gonez for their efforts on the issue.
“We have an obligation to our ancestors to respect history, but do we commemorate the genocide or send our kids to school so they wont be absent?” said a parent of two students at Mountain View Anzhela Martirosyan in comments before the board through occasional tears. “How do we explain our kids that they cannot go to school tomorrow, and that only Armenians cannot go?”
The Ottoman Empire, which became the modern day state of Turkey, is blamed for the deaths of between 800,000 and 1.5 million Armenians during World War I through massacres, forced labor and death marches. Turkey has long denied accusations that the killings constituted a genocide, leading many countries allied with the regional power player – including the United States – to refrain from using the term.
In Los Angeles, a major population center for people of Armenian descent, thousands of members of L.A.’s Armenian community march each year on April 24 in Hollywood each year and call on U.S. leaders to join other countries in recognizing the genocide.