Holocaust instruction at schools would be expanded under lawmaker proposals

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In sweeping proposals adding depth and breadth to what’s taught about the Holocaust, two South Florida lawmakers filed legislation today that would require the instruction in both public and some private schools.

Besides traditional public schools, the Holocaust Education Act of 2020 would ensure that charter public schools be required to teach the history of the Holocaust, as well as private schools that accept “scholarships.” (A reference to vouchers that allow public dollars to go to private schools.)

The legislation comes after a scandal this summer, when news got out that a Boca Raton high school principal in Palm Beach County refused to say that the Holocaust is a factual, historical event.

The outcry become a national story, not only about the principal’s comments but whether schools were actually teaching about the Holocaust, which is required by state law.

The two Democratic lawmakers, State Sen. Kevin Rader and Rep. Tina Polsky, both from Boca Raton, filed legislation (HB 91 and SB 184) for the 2020 legislative session that would be more detailed and prescriptive about what’s taught about the Holocaust.

The Florida Department of Education would be required to develop specific academic standards—what students should know – for a Holocaust curriculum. And each school district would have to appoint a designated Holocaust curriculum coordinator. A regional coordinator could be used for smaller districts.

And new requirements in the Holocaust legislation would include providing “instruction that further emphasizes the personal responsibility that each citizen bears to fight racism and hatred whenever and wherever it happens,” preparing students “to confront and understand the immorality of the Holocaust,” and preserving memories of survivors.

The education department also would be required to develop and maintain a list of volunteers to share knowledge and experience in classrooms, seminars, and workshops on the Holocaust. Those volunteers may include survivors, concentration camp liberators, scholars, clergymen and community relations professionals, according to the legislation.

The legislation filed today isn’t the only bill emerging from the Holocaust instruction controversy.

Democratic state Rep. Geraldine Thompson, representing parts of Orange County, has said she will file legislation that would withhold the salaries of school superintendents whose schools are not complying with the law on teaching about the Holocaust and African American history.

Thompson, a member of the Legislature’s black caucus, also has been concerned that schools aren’t teaching African American history, though it’s required by law.

In an earlier interview the Florida Phoenix, she said, “No one is reporting, no one is inspecting. There is no accountability and no repercussions and consequences,” Thompson said about the African American history requirement that has been in the law for 25 years.

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