With concerns rising about whether schools are actually teaching the history of the Holocaust, one Jewish lawmaker says all school districts should review the way they’re carrying out Holocaust instruction required by law.
Right now, only the Palm Beach County school district has been asked to provide a detailed report about how schools are fulfilling the mandate to teach students about the Holocaust.
“It (a similar detailed report) needs to be across the board,” in all districts in Florida, said Democratic State Rep. Tina Scott Polsky, a lawyer from Boca Raton who represents a part of Palm Beach County.
Polsky believes the Palm Beach County school district has done an excellent job of teaching the Holocaust – her own children learned at school. But whether every other district across the state is following the law explicitly is unknown.
The issue of Holocaust teaching has come into the limelight following an outcry over remarks about the Holocaust made by a Palm Beach County school district principal, who refused to say that the Holocaust is a factual, historical event. The principal, William Latson, has been reassigned and his contract may not be renewed when it expires next year.
The controversy has become a national story. State lawmakers have called on the principal to be ousted and U.S. senators recently filed legislation to finance federal grants to help teachers across the country develop and improve Holocaust education programs for middle and high school students.
The Palm Beach County school board had been considering a decision about Latson’s tenure at a board meeting this week. But lawmaker Polsky said the board may not act until July 31. As of late Monday afternoon, Palm Beach County school district officials did not respond to the Phoenix’s questions about when the board might act.
In addition to Polsky, several members of the Florida Jewish Legislative Caucus have expressed concerns about principal Latson’s remarks.
Caucus chair Rep. Richard Stark, a Democrat representing part of Broward County, said he supports the Palm Beach school superintendent’s recommendation to not renew principal Latson’s contract.
“Mr. Latson abdicated his role as a school leader when he suggested that the Holocaust might be a fiction. The murder of nearly six million Jews is not an opinion, it is a horrific part of our history,” Stark said in a statement.
According to the Florida law, Holocaust 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.”
But school districts may or may not be providing instruction in all of those areas.
Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, in a letter to the Palm Beach County school superintendent, recently raised questions about the “the integrity of the principal and the school’s programs intended to educate students on the Holocaust and Jewish history in general.” That led Corcoran to request detailed information about what the district is doing in the way of Holocaust instruction.
Also, 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.
She also raised questions about whether schools are teaching the history of African Americans, which is also mandated by law.
That law requires teaching: “History of African peoples before the political conflicts that led to the development of slavery, the passage to America, the enslavement experience, abolition, and the contributions of African Americans to society. Instructional materials shall include the contributions of African Americans to American society.”