Democrats want to verify Florida’s Holocaust and slavery history lessons are up to par
Amanda Darrow, director of youth, family and education programs at the Utah Pride Center, poses with books that have been the subject of complaints from parents in recent weeks. Image via AP.

book banning
Schools would face financial penalties for failing to show these history lessons meet state standards.

As Gov. Ron DeSantis has raised issues about how children learn history, Democrats are introducing legislation that would penalize schools that don’t properly teach African American and Holocaust history.

Under the legislation, private schools, charter schools and public school districts would be required to submit evidence to the state that the topics are being taught as state standards dictate.

Sen. Lori Berman of Lantana filed the Senate version (SB 1398). Rep. Geraldine Thompson of Windermere filed the House version (HB 51), with Rep. Anna Eskamani of Orlando serving as a co-sponsor.

Lobbyists for private and charter schools say they have no problem with the new requirements in these bills, arguing their schools are teaching these topics anyway.

In both bills, private schools would not receive their share of state money and charter schools would be in violation of their charter for failing to show the state that their Holocaust and African American history curricula are in line with state standards. Thompson’s bill, however, would also withhold the salary of any school district Superintendent who fails to show compliance.

Berman said she started to think about adding these requirements on Holocaust and African American history instruction before controversy erupted over what’s known as critical race theory. CRT is a theory that has emerged in public discourse, with critics taking on CRT’s supposition that racism is embedded in American institutions. Florida school officials have denied it’s taught to kids, however, and many have said it’s restricted to college instruction.

Still, some legislators have raised concern that children are being separated by race because of this instructional approach.

Reps. Randy Fine and Jason Fischer and Sen. Joe Gruters filed companion bills (HB 57 and SB 242) that would prohibit training that makes an “individual feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress” — legislation that was seen as a salvo against CRT.

And the state Department of Education in June passed a rule that bans “theories that distort historical events” and outlawed the use of the New York Times’ “1619 Project,” which focused on the history of slavery.

That aside, Berman said she has been worried the state’s standard curriculum is under fire.

“I’m concerned about making sure that everyone is aware of what history is,” she said. “We can’t say that slavery didn’t exist. We can’t say that Jim Crow laws (which segregated Whites and Blacks) didn’t exist.”

Howard Burke, executive director of the Florida Association of Christian Colleges and Schools said he has no problem with the proposed legislation.

“Most of the schools she (Berman) is trying to reach are already teaching that and have been since the late ’90s,” he said.

In practice, though, some hiccups have come to light. At Spanish River High School in Boca Raton — the school Berman’s son attends — Principal William Latson made national headlines when he refused to call the Holocaust a fact in 2019.

An Orlando Sentinel report in 2018 found that some Florida private schools’ curriculum, supported with tax dollars, downplayed slavery by portraying slaves baptized into Christianity as better off than free non-Christians.

Burke said he was not familiar with the report.

“I do not see that African American history is any issue,” he said.

But, he added, he would not expect that a curriculum developed from The New York Times’ 1619 Project would be used at the schools he speaks for. It, he said, “is purely Marxist.”

The bills that Berman and Thompson have proposed do not specify what materials must be used. But they do call for schools to engage museums, colleges, experts and historical sites to enrich curricula and students’ experience on these topics.

Anne Geggis

Anne Geggis is a South Florida journalist who began her career in Vermont and has worked at the Sun-Sentinel, the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Gainesville Sun covering government issues, health and education. She was a member of the Sun-Sentinel team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Parkland high school shooting. You can reach her on Twitter @AnneBoca or by emailing [email protected]


5 comments

  • Don’t Look Up

    January 6, 2022 at 3:28 pm

    LOL! The very last person in Florida…. or America …. who should be advising academia is Ron DeSantis.

  • Alex

    January 6, 2022 at 3:39 pm

    I like they added the Holocaust

    Given Trump’s recent anti-Semitic tirade and the Republican penchant for doing the same stupid shit he does, it makes sense.

  • Jerry

    January 6, 2022 at 8:18 pm

    What exactly isn’t being taught that needs to be? When I was in high school we learned about the civil war and slavery. That was in the history books. They talked about segregation and the civil rights movement. That was in the history books. The Dred Scott, Plessy, and Brown SCOTUS decisions were taught.

    Are we teaching every little detail? No. There isn’t enough time in the school day for that. So sure some of this is somewhat superficial because high school is only 4 years. You need to teach world history, American history, government, social studies, geography, and not to mention math, science, english, and phys ed. K-12 isn’t really meant to provide a very deep understanding of everything. It’s a basic, general education to get a person started through life. Colleges and universities is when you get more in depth in a certain major and certain subjects and discussions of advanced theories.

  • Ron Ogden

    January 8, 2022 at 5:29 pm

    Why aren’t we teaching about Soviet gulags and pogroms? Oh, ’cause it is not politically correct. For people like Eskamani, Stalin is a hero.

    • tom palmer

      January 8, 2022 at 7:34 pm

      Uh, that’s not part of American history. Just a tip for the geography impaired.

Comments are closed.


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