In a training meeting before the spring legislative session, state Rep. Geraldine F. “Geri” Thompson raised questions about whether public schools have been teaching required classes such as the history of the Holocaust.
That instruction is required by law, but in some cases, “It has really not been done,” said Thompson, a Central Florida Democrat.
Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran will now be getting to the bottom of the situation, at least in Palm Beach County, where a scandal erupted after a Boca Raton high school principal refused to say that the Holocaust is a factual, historical event.
The outcry has become a national story. State lawmakers have called on the principal to be ousted and U.S. senators have filed legislation to finance federal grants to help teachers across the country develop and improve Holocaust education programs for middle and high school students.
Corcoran is now requesting detailed reports on what all public schools in Palm Beach County are doing to abide by state law that mandates historical instruction about the Holocaust, according to a letter sent Wednesday to Palm Beach School Superintendent Donald Fennoy.
“As you know, public schools in Palm Beach County have an obligation to faithfully teach the history of the Holocaust,” Corcoran wrote. “Specifically, the law requires this instruction to be given on this topic with the highest standards for historical accuracy in a manner that leads to an understanding of the ramifications of prejudice, racism and stereotyping.”
According to the law, that instruction includes: “The history of the Holocaust (1933-1945), the systematic, planned annihilation of European Jews and other groups by Nazi Germany, a watershed event in the history of humanity, to be taught in a manner that leads to an investigation of human behavior, an understanding of the ramifications of prejudice, racism, and stereotyping, and an examination of what it means to be a responsible and respectful person, for the purposes of encouraging tolerance of diversity in a pluralistic society and for nurturing and protecting democratic values and institutions.”
The recent controversy over Holocaust instruction came about at Spanish River Community High School, when a parent inquired last year about “whether the school’s students study the Holocaust,” according to NBC 6. That led to remarks by principal William Latson.
“Reported comments and communications by Principal William Latson with parents of students at his school regarding the Jewish Holocaust during World War II, and speculation on the part of Principal Latson as to whether or not the Holocaust actually took place, are outrageous and unacceptable,” Corcoran wrote in the letter to the school superintendent, “and cause me to seriously question the integrity of the principal and the school’s programs intended to educate students on the Holocaust and Jewish history in general.”
Latson has been reassigned and his contract may not be renewed when it expires next year, according to news reports. Latson has said the parent’s statement was “not accurately relayed” to a newspaper, according to The Palm Beach Post.
In Washington D.C., U.S. senators introduced legislation Thursday called the “Never Again Education Act,” according to a news release from Republican Florida U.S. Senator Marco Rubio.
It would establish a federal fund at the U.S. Department of Education – the Holocaust Education Assistance Program Fund – for grants for Holocaust education programs across the country.
“The funding could cover training for educators, textbooks, transportation for survivors to be brought to a school, and certain other educational materials that present historically accurate information about the atrocities of the Holocaust,” according to the news release. “The bill would also direct experts at the (U.S.) Department of Education to work with trained Holocaust educators to conduct regional workshops to help teachers incorporate the sensitive subject of the Holocaust into their classrooms.”
“The Holocaust is humanity’s darkest hour, and we must never forget the stain it has left on history,” Rubio said in the press release. “Incredibly, there are still some who deny the existence of the mass murder of six million Jewish people or, even worse, wrongly manipulate the horrors of the Holocaust to score cheap political points in today’s partisan climate.”
In addition to Rubio, U.S. Senators Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) introduced the bipartisan legislation.
U.S. Representatives Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Elise Stefanik (R-NY) introduced companion legislation in the House in January, and now has 209 bipartisan co-sponsors.