A Florida Principal's Reassignment Raises Questions About the Quality of Holocaust Education

Recent research suggests that, countrywide, Holocaust educational efforts aren't going far enough.
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A gate with the inscription "Work Sets You Free" at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp memorial on January 25th, 2019, in Oranienburg, Germany. Starting in 1936, the Sachsenhausen facility was used by the Nazis, initially for political prisoners, then later also for Jews and other religious minorities, homosexuals, and Soviet prisoners of war.

A gate with the inscription "Work Sets You Free" at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp memorial on January 25th, 2019, in Oranienburg, Germany. Starting in 1936, the Sachsenhausen facility was used by the Nazis, initially for political prisoners, then later also for Jews and other religious minorities, homosexuals, and Soviet prisoners of war.

A Florida public high school principal in a school district with a nationally recognized Holocaust curriculum was reassigned this week after suggesting to a parent that the Holocaust was not a factual event.

Holocaust education in the United States is established at the state level, and Florida is one of 11 states where it is mandatory in public schools. Florida's mandate was passed in 1994, requiring the Holocaust "to be taught as a uniquely important event in modern history, emphasizing the systemic and state-sponsored violence, which distinguish it from other genocides."

When a parent at Spanish River High School in Boca Raton, Florida, was curious about how this mandate was being implemented, she emailed former principal William Latson, who noted in his response that "the curriculum is to be introduced but not forced upon individuals as we all have the same rights but not the same beliefs."

After a series of email exchanges and in-person meetings seeking to improve the school's Holocaust education, the mother still felt dissatisfied with Latson's desire to remain "politically neutral" regarding the existence of the Holocaust, the Palm Beach Post reported. The school district announced that it would reassign Latson to another position in the district on Monday, after the Palm Beach Post published the email correspondence. Latson later apologized for what he said in his emails.

To many, the decision to reassign Latson is not enough. Politicians including Senator Rick Scott (R–Florida) and Florida state representative Mike Caruso have called for the principal to be fired, and, as of Tuesday, more than 12,200 community members had signed a petition favoring Latson's termination.

Recent research suggests that, countrywide, Holocaust educational efforts aren't going far enough. The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany's 2018 survey found significant gaps in knowledge; for instance, 49 percent of Millennials could not name any of the more than 40,000 concentration camps and ghettos in Europe during the Holocaust, and 41 percent of Millennials said they believed two million or fewer Jews were killed during the Holocaust (in reality, six million were killed).

Frank A. Barbieri Jr., the chairman of the Palm Beach County school board, issued a statement Sunday reaffirming the board's commitment to historically accurate Holocaust education. Sheri Zvi, the Anti-Defamation League's regional director for Florida, told the Miami Herald that she hopes the incident will push Palm Beach County schools "to ensure that the Florida Holocaust education mandate is consistently and fully implemented district-wide."

The Herald noted that the ADL is working with the school district to implement the Echoes & Reflections Holocaust education curriculum, which it says has reached six million students since it was founded in 2005 to help more people understand the lasting impacts of the Holocaust on the world.

In response to the incident, Senator Marco Rubio (R–Florida) announced a plan to file the Never Again Education Act in the Senate this week to help states obtain funding and resources through the U.S. Department of Education so students can "learn about the historical fact that Nazi Germany systematically murdered over 6 million Jews," he said in a tweet. The bill was first introduced in the House by Representative Carolyn Maloney (D–New York) in April of 2018. Maloney reintroduced it in the House in January of 2019, and it remains in committee. 

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