The Phoenix Flyer

Lawmaker moves to take away superintendent salaries if schools don’t teach about Holocaust, African American history

By: - July 24, 2019 11:28 am

Gov. Ron DeSantis visits Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, Israel’s memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, on May 30, 2019. Source: Governor’s office.

Democratic state Rep. Geraldine Thompson plans to 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, who represents part of Orange County, has been concerned in the past about whether schools are actually teaching those topics, which are required by law.

And the issue came to the forefront recently, when a Palm Beach County principal refused to say that the Holocaust is a factual, historical event, sparking outrage and a national story.

The principal, William Latson, has been reassigned and his contract may not be renewed when it expires next year. The Palm Beach County school board is expected to decide soon on Latson’s tenure.

Thompson sent a letter Tuesday to Gov. Ron DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, asking for support on a bill that would withhold the salaries of superintendents if schools aren’t properly and legally providing the instruction. She plans to file the bill for the 2020 legislative session.

The average school district superintendent salary in Florida is $155,269, according to Florida Department of Education data for 2018-19. Across school districts, the average salaries for superintendents range from about $100,000 to $350,000, with some of the highest salaries in Miami-Dade, Broward, Orange and Palm Beach.

“With the rise of racism and anti-Semitism in America, it is vitally important that Florida’s students receive instruction on the Holocaust and African American history,” Representative Thompson said in a statement. “This instruction will help students understand the importance of diversity and inclusion in our democracy and the need for each generation to guard them zealously.”

She concluded, “After 25 years of haphazard implementation, it is time to put some teeth into this law.”

In a training meeting before the spring legislative session, state Rep. Thompson raised questions about whether public schools have been teaching required classes such as the history of the Holocaust and African American studies. That instruction is required by law, but in some cases, “It has really not been done,” Thompson said at the time.

Education Commissioner Corcoran is 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 recent letter Palm Beach School Superintendent Donald Fennoy.

However, 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.

“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.


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Diane Rado
Diane Rado

Diane Rado has covered state and local government and public schools in six states over some 30 years, focusing on policy and investigative stories as well as legislative and political reporting. She is married to a journalist and has three adult children.