On Wednesday, October 7, 2020, the Palm Beach County School Board held a special meeting to determine whether to reinstate one of its former principals. William Latson's employment was terminated last fall after communications with a parent where Latson implied that whether the Holocaust happened was a matter of "belief" rather than fact.
Upon learning of Latson's statements last year, we immediately contacted school district administrators to express our concerns about the Holocaust being taught in this manner, and to ensure that the voices of Jewish members of the district were adequately heard.
Following his termination, Latson instituted legal proceedings seeking reinstatement. An administrative judge concluded that while Latson's conduct warranted discipline, the district's decision to terminate Latson was too steep of a penalty.
Prior to yesterday’s special meeting of the school board, the StandWithUs Center for Combating Antisemitism (CCA) submitted a letter to the board urging it to take all necessary steps to ensure that the educational interests of its students, including crucial Holocaust education, would be served by the board's decision. The CCA asked that, if Latson were in fact rehired, he be required to undergo training regarding antisemitism, including personally meeting with Holocaust survivors to hear the all too real horrors of their experiences.
The school board voted 4-3 in favor of reinstating Mr. Latson. Alongside a number of individuals who expressed their concerns, the CCA and the Palm Beach JCRC provided public statements at the hearing.
Given the importance of ensuring that students receive proper education about the Holocaust, we will continue to monitor this situation. We have also offered to assist the district in its provision of antisemitism training and education.
Carly Gammill, director of the StandWithUs Center for Combating Antisemitism released the following statement to press: "Recognizing that the board would likely vote to rehire Mr. Latson, CCA knew how important it was that we voice our concerns by asking the district to take all necessary steps to ensure that the board's decision would not detrimentally impact Holocaust education for the district's students. Prior to the vote, we sent a letter to the school board and provided a statement during the public comment aspect of the hearing. We emphasized the necessity of accurately teaching all historic events, including the atrocities of the Holocaust as historical fact, and not as a belief or opinion. As he resumes his duties within the school district, we expect that Mr. Latson will continue learning about antisemitism, and choose to be an instrumental part of the solution to this pervasive societal disease.
UPDATE: Following the board's rehiring decision, and expressions of serious concern from the community, the board decided to reconsider its recent rehiring decision at a hearing held October 21, 2021. At the hearing, the board indicated that because of the volume of recorded messages it received from citizens addressing this issue (over 1,200), it would need to postpone its vote to another date.
During the public comment of the hearing, Max Adelstein, Associate Director, StandWithUs/Southeast, delivered the following statement on behalf of the CCA and StandWithUs Southeast: "On October 6th, the StandWithUs Center for Combating Antisemitism urged the Palm Beach County School Board to make a re-hiring decision regarding William Latson that would best protect the interests of its students. In this regard, we were encouraged to learn that the board would be revisiting its vote to rehire Mr. Latson. It is essential that students are properly educated about the historical facts and tragedy of the world's greatest genocide, and anyone in a position of leadership or educational influence within a school district must be committed to that basic standard. We hope that the school board's decision today will reflect the serious concerns expressed by the community, and send the clear message that Holocaust education is about teaching accurate history, not playing politics. It is up to all of you to ensure that each generation receives proper information about some of the world's darkest days so that we continue to learn from this unthinkable tragedy."
We will continue to follow this matter and provide updates as they become available.
"The StandWithUs Center for Combating Antisemitism and StandWithUs/Southeast commend the Palm Beach County School Board for its thorough treatment of the issue of the provision of Holocaust education within the district. The board's decision to table its vote on the employment of Mr. Latson so that board members can listen to the over 1,200 messages it received about this situation demonstrates the board's commitment to listening to the concerns of the local community," said Sara Gold Rafel, Executive Director, StandWithUs/Southeast. "We remain confident that the board's ultimate decision will be one that ensures district employees are committed to providing accurate historical education about the Holocaust and will continue to monitor the situation as it develops," added Carly Gammill, Director, StandWithUs Center for Combating Antisemitism.
Update - November 1, 2020:
Sara Gold Rafel, executive director StandWithUs/Southeast stated, "StandWithUs commends the Palm Beach County School Board for its decision to prioritize the educational interests of its students by rescinding unanimously their decision to reinstate former principal William Latson. The board's decision today communicates clearly the importance it places on ensuring that its employees value accuracy in history education, including the Holocaust. Antisemitism is allowed to fester when we fail to expose lies and misinformation and replace them with the truth. We respect the school board for doing its part - including the hours board members spent listening to the voices of concerned citizens - to make sure these types of situations are not tolerated within the PBCSD district." Since this issue first emerged in 2018, StandWithUs worked to help ensure that this is resolved in a way that supports appropriate Holocaust education for all the district's students. In addition to speaking with district administrators when the matter first came to light, the StandWithUs Center for Combating Antisemitism wrote a letter to the board just prior to the October 7th reinstatement hearing and provided public comment at that hearing. StandWithUs Southeast Associate Director Max Adelstein also addressed the board at the October 21st hearing, and StandWithUs/Southeast board members Dr. Steve Gerzof and William Callahan spoke at today's hearing. Throughout this process, the StandWithUs high school staff have been engaged with and supported students in the district to ensure their voices were also heard. "This matter has been a priority for us since we first learned of it," said Rafel, "and we are grateful to the other members of the community -- Jewish organizations, rabbis, and citizens -- who attended and participated in today's hearing and respect the bravery of the Holocaust survivors who once again shared their horrific stories. Going forward, we will continue partnering with the board, the district's administrators and of course, our students, and other engaged members of the community, to ensure this type of situation is not repeated. We thank the school board for its tireless efforts here, including the hours members spent listening to constituents messages."