Gov. Ron DeSantis could require public schools to teach about the Holocaust and open the door to lessons about the Ocoee Massacre if he approves a bill that hit his desk Tuesday.
That bill (HB 1213), by Rep. Randy Fine, originally just addressed Holocaust education, but it was joined with legislation, welcomed by Fine, from the Senate that calls for a study on how to incorporate the 1920 Ocoee Election Day Massacre into schools’ history curriculum.
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.”
November marks the 100th anniversary of the lynching of Julius “July” Perry, a prominent leader in the early Orange County African American community who was attempting to turn out black voters. White rioters killed Perry and torched black-owned buildings in the neighborhood in response.
Between three and 60 African Americans reportedly died in the violence, and the remaining black residents fled.
Last year, Ocoee declared the massacre an act of domestic terror and hoped to shed its history as a “sunset” town where African Americans weren’t allowed after curfew.
The Ocoee Riots section of the bill, based on legislation by Ocoee Sen. Randolph Bracy, would call on the Education Commissioner’s African American History Task Force to recommend ways the history of the massacre can be taught in schools.
The bill, sponsored in the House by Sen. Lauren Book, also mandates that every school district teach students about the state’s policy against anti-Semitism. The Department of Education would have to create a process for schools to annually certify and provide evidence of compliance with Holocaust instructional requirements.
Additionally, it would make the second week of November “Holocaust Education Week” to recognize the anniversary of Kristallnacht.
The Legislature approved the bill in March, but lawmakers have held on to most bills to give DeSantis time to focus on the coronavirus pandemic.
Last year, the Governor signed legislation by Fine and Book that explicitly targeted anti-Semitism in schools.
He has until June 30 to act on the measure before it goes into effect July 1.