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Holocaust education measure clears final House panel

The Florida Holocaust Museum says some educators are teaching the Holocaust wrong.

Legislation requiring students to learn about the Holocaust passed its final House committee this week.

Brevard Republican Rep. Randy Fine is sponsoring legislation (CS/HB 1213) that would require the Florida Department of Education to give schools curriculum standards for teaching the subject in K-12 schools. The bill passed the House Education Committee without opposition.

It also mandates that every school district and charter school also teach students about the state’s policy against antisemitism. The department would have to create a process for schools to annually certify and provide evidence of compliance with the Holocaust instructional requirements. They may contract with Florida Holocaust Museum and other state or nationally recognized organizations to develop the curriculum and instructional material.

The legislation was prompted in part by comments made by former Spanish River High School principal William Latson in 2018, who told a student’s parent that he couldn’t state the Holocaust was a “factual, historical event.” The email wasn’t revealed publicly until last summer. 

“The Palm Beach County School Board covered it up for a year until it was revealed by a newspaper and then everyone went crazy,” Fine said. “And when I spoke to them about it, I called down and I was like ‘I don’t understand.’ And what I was told was ‘Well he’s a good man, he just doesn’t understand, he’s just not educated.’”

Fine said he asked the school board official if the principal would have kept his job for another year if he had told a parent he couldn’t say that slavery had actually happened in the U.S. Fine said the official told him the principal would have been fired that afternoon.

The bill prime co-sponsor Rep. Michael Caruso said he recently got an email from a constituent calling the bill an attempt to “brainwash our children that this hoax really happened.” 

Florida Holocaust Museum Executive Director Elizabeth Gelman said while some districts are doing a good job, many teachers weren’t taught about the Holocaust when they were in school and now are struggling to teach it correctly.

“So we have very well-intentioned teachers who are doing inappropriate things in the classroom,” she said. “Such as having the students play out about the Holocaust, having kids giving Nazi salutes and bullying other students.”

Gelman said they help thousands of teachers across the state each year with lesson plans and have worked with more than 2,000 since August. 

The Senate companion (CS/SB 1628) sponsored by Sen. Lauren Book will be heard in the Appropriations Subcommittee on Education next week.

Written By

Sarah Mueller has extensive experience covering public policy. She earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2010. She began her career covering local government in Texas, Georgia and Colorado. She returned to school in 2016 to earn a master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting. Since then, she’s worked in public radio covering state politics in Illinois, Florida and Delaware. If you'd like to contact her, send an email to sarah@floridapolitics.com.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Cogent Observer

    February 14, 2020 at 3:58 pm

    The holocaust was terrible. But there have been many terrible events against distinct nationalities, religions, countries, and identifiable groups in all of history. The Bolshevik revolution, Chinese and Vietnamese communist atrocities, and more recently, Islamic terrorism immediately come to mind.

    It defies reason that the holocaust is singled out for attention, apart from it being a vote-getter in Florida. “Never Forget” among affected families and ethnicities is one thing, but emblazoning it upon statutorily-mandated curricula is idiotic. Unless, of course, it will be done with respect to all atrocities throughout history.

  2. Charlotte Greenbarg

    February 15, 2020 at 9:01 am

    The Holocaust is unique. It happened because the Germans decided to agree with Hitler’s plan to exterminate Jews because they were Jews. Yes, the other atrocities were vile and reprehensible, but they were not about religion. Hitler used the embedded hatred of Jews (when they wouldn’t convert to Lutheranism after Martin Luther revolted) to gain and keep power, while confiscating their property.

    Other historical atrocities need to be taught in the context of a world history course.

    Present day Islamist terrorists are using hatred of Jews/Israel as a wedge to obliterate Western civilization, just like Hitler did.

    Your comments that it’s “idiotic” to mandate it in curricula, and using the Holocaust as a “vote-getter” are insulting, demeaning and extremely revealing.

    • Cogent Observer

      February 17, 2020 at 8:12 pm

      Ms. Greenbarg–You stated that the “other atrocities” need to be taught in the context of a world history course. As though, for example, Mau’s mass murders, imprisonments, starvations, “re-education” were somehow not comparable and lesser in significance to Hitler’s? You correctly acknowledge that Islamic terrorism uses religious hatred as a tool.

      But once again, in your view, both of those should be taught as part of a world history course. Perhaps a course called “Comparative Terror?”

      Yet, you are steadfast in your statement that the Holocaust is somehow deserving of special attention, education, and legislative mandate. While the teacher in this story was way out of line and his actions unacceptable, your thinking and innuendo (your use of the word “revealing”) is, respectfully, suggestive of a very closed mind. And incidentally, “revealing” of what?

  3. Susan

    February 17, 2020 at 5:22 pm

    Why is this course not required of all publicly funded schools?
    SB 184 is a better bill.

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