July 9, 2019
A high school principal in Boca Raton, Fla. was reassigned to an unspecified position on July 8 after he refused to state whether the Holocaust occurred.
According to the Palm Beach Post, an unnamed student’s mother asked Spanish River High School Principal William Latson in an April 2018 email how the Holocaust was being taught in the school. Latson replied that the school does provide Holocaust education but it wouldn’t be forced upon students, stating, “Not everyone believes the Holocaust happened. And you have your thoughts, but we are a public school and not all of our parents have the same beliefs.”
Latson sent a later email to the mother stating, “I can’t say the Holocaust is a factual, historical event because I am not in a position to do so as a school district employee.”
Latson apologized for his remarks in a July 5 statement emailed to the Post, declaring, “I regret that the verbiage that I used when responding to an email message from a parent, one year ago, did not accurately reflect my professional and personal commitment to educating all students about the atrocities of the Holocaust. It is critical that, as a society, we hold dear the memory of the victims and hold fast to our commitment to counter anti-Semitism.”
A Palm Beach County School District spokesperson told local NBC affiliate WPTV that Latson has been reassigned over his email exchange with the mother.
“Mr. Latson made a grave error in judgment in the verbiage,” the spokesperson wrote in a statement to the television station. “In addition to being offensive, the principal’s statement is not supported by either the School District Administration or the School Board.”
A spokesperson for the district told the Journal in an email that Latson’s “reassignment has not been determined yet.”
Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Florida Regional Director Sheri Zvi said in a statement Latson’s remarks were “outrageous and totally unacceptable. We are pleased that the district has taken action and recognized that Mr. Latson’s remarks were not only offensive but contrary to school board policy.” She added that she hopes “this incident compels Palm Beach County Schools to ensure that the Florida Holocaust education mandate is consistently and fully implemented district-wide.”
Associate Dean and Director of Social Global Action Agenda at the Simon Wiesenthal Center Rabbi Abraham Cooper said that Latson’s remarks were “absolutely shocking,” asking if Latson’s logic also applied to “the American Revolution, the assassination of President [John F.] Kennedy or the moon landing?”
American Jewish Committee Palm Beach County Regional Director Laurence Milstein similarly said in a statement to the Journal, “While we appreciate corrective actions taken by the school district to address the issue thus far, we must do more to ensure that mandatory Holocaust education in Palm Beach County receives the priority it deserves. The Holocaust is a historical fact and any suggestion otherwise must be condemned in the strongest terms, especially within our schools.”
StandWithUs Southeast Executive Director Sara Gold Rafel also said in a statement to the Journal, “The Holocaust’s occurrence is an undeniable, unequivocal fact. The Florida legislature has correctly stated that a key purpose of appropriate Holocaust education is ‘understanding the ramifications of prejudice, racism, and stereotyping…to encourage tolerance of diversity in a pluralistic society.’ As such, school boards across the state must be diligent about correcting misinformation among faculty and students, and ensuring that their Holocaust education meets the highest standards.”
More than 8,000 people have signed a Change.org petition calling for Latson to be suspended without pay “until a proper investigation is completed.” The petition also calls on the school to “add proper training for all school staff on how to teach about the Holocaust.”
According to the Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Naples, Fla., the Florida state government mandated Holocaust education in all its public schools in 1994. The law states that Florida students must be taught about the Nazis’ “systematic planned annihilation of [Jews in order to gain] an understanding of the ramifications of prejudice, racism, and stereotyping, and an examination of what it means to be a responsible and respectful person.”
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