Florida public school students would be taught a standard statewide curriculum on the Holocaust beginning next fall if a bill working its way through legislative committees, with unanimous approval thus far, is adopted.
Senate Bill 1628, sponsored by Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation, was endorsed without objection Monday by the Senate Education Committee and now advances to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education and the Appropriations Committee.
A House companion, HB 1213, sponsored by the PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee, is further along in the approval process, with one hearing in the House Education Committee remaining before it is introduced onto the chamber’s floor.
The bills authorize the state’s Department of Education (DOE) to contract with the Florida Holocaust Museum to develop, free of cost, instructional materials to teach the history of the Holocaust.
The measures would expand statutory requirements in a 1994 law that requires the 1933-1945 Nazi Holocaust against the Jewish people be taught in public schools, including in charter and private schools that accept state vouchers.
Despite this, Book told the panel Monday not all Florida school districts teach the same facts about the Holocaust – or barely mention it at all – depriving students of a valuable and relevant lesson about “what happens when hatred and intolerance become accepted.”
The bills were filed in the wake of a firestorm that unfolded last summer when The Palm Beach Post recounted how then-Spanish River High School Principal William Latson told a parent in an email exchange that students could opt out of classes on the Holocaust because “not everyone believes the Holocaust happened” and that he “can’t say the Holocaust is a factual, historical event.”
Spanish River High School is in Pompano, a Palm Beach County community with a large Jewish population.
Latson, a 26-year career educator, was removed July 8 as Spanish River High School principal, reassigned to a district position and formally fired by the Palm Beach County School Board in October for “ethical misconduct” and “failure to carry out job responsibilities.”
Florida Holocaust Museum Executive Director Elizabeth Gelman said it provided educational programs for 637 schools in 36 counties in Florida during the 2018-19 school year.
Among its services is “Skype with a survivor” so students in areas that don’t have a local Holocaust survivor to speak with them “can still have that experience,” she said.
Gelman said the museum worked with 1,460 Florida teachers on curriculum last year, and this year, they have “already worked with more than 2,000.”
But only five of the state’s 64 county districts, such as those in South Florida, the Tampa and Tallahassee areas, have well-designed and consistent Holocaust curriculum.
“What we are most concerned with is the 59 other counties,” Gelman said, noting many districts have “well-intentioned” Holocaust curriculum that is inadequate or inaccurate.
Gelman cited one district that allowed “students to dress up in Nazi uniforms and give Hitler salutes,” another that relied on a Holocaust survivor’s garage museum that had “a lot of misinformation,” another that taught “a beautiful program about butterflies that had nothing to do with the Holocaust” and another that required students to read a romance novel about a Nazi guard who fell in love with a Jewish woman in a concentration camp.
“This is not Holocaust education,” Gelman said.