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.