With racial injustice issues playing out at both the national and state levels, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation Tuesday that would bring questions of race to the forefront of education.
When the law (HB 1213) goes into effect July 1, it will require public schools to certify that they teach about the Holocaust. Another provision of the bill sets the ball rolling on teaching about the 1920 Ocoee Election Day Riots.
“While we will never replace the lives lost or erase the evils committed during the Holocaust, we can ensure Floridians never forget these atrocities,” said Sen. Lauren Book, the legislation’s Senate sponsor.
Book and Rep. Randy Fine worked together with Sen. Randolph Bracy to include language that charges the Education Commissioner’s African American History Task Force with exploring how to teach about the Ocoee Massacre in history classes. Additionally, it promotes opportunities to elevate victims of the riots through park names and exhibits.
“One hundred years ago, the bloodiest day in American political history unfolded in Ocoee, Florida on Election Day,” said Bracy, an Ocoee Democrat. “Now more than ever it is paramount we educate our citizenry about the origins of racial conflict and its manifestations in policies that are anti-black, anti-democratic, and anti-human.”
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 to his advocacy.
Between three and 60 African Americans reportedly died in the violence, and the remaining Black residents fled.
In light of George Floyd‘s death after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck and the protests that followed, Fine — a Brevard County Republican — said the bill’s timing and wrapping both issues into one was more than appropriate. This month has also seen outcry over online comments made by Florida State University’s Student Senate President that critics called anti-Semitic.
“I think we’re more attuned to this now, whether we’re teaching about the Holocaust or this disgraceful day,” Fine said. “I think now more than ever we need to be teaching these things.”
The Legislature unanimously passed the measure in March, which Fine said put Florida ahead of the curve on several racial issues that have been revisited in recent weeks.
Book and Fine filed the legislation in part because of 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.”
“Our country has finally awoken to systemic racism — but in order to truly dismantle it, we must educate students about the insidious roots of racial injustice and arm them with knowledge and skills to effectively create change,” said Book, a Plantation Democrat.
Auschwitz survivor Magdalen Bader appeared before the Senate this Session to make the case for the bill.
Bader was born in Czechoslovakia and survived several concentration camps.
“I may look like I’m happy and smiling — and I am — but inside me, every day I think of all the horrors that we went through,” Bader said.
Last year, DeSantis signed legislation, also by Fine and Book, that explicitly targeted anti-Semitism in schools.