A Florida school board reinstated a former high school principal who had been dismissed due to an email exchange with a parent in which he stated that “not everyone believes that the Holocaust happened.”
When the parent countered that the Holocaust was a fact of history, Palm Beach County principal William Latson replied, “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.”
The parent had requested that education about the Holocaust be made “a priority;” Latson told the parent that educators, instead, had “the role to be politically neutral, but support all groups in the school.”
Latson was apparently referring to parents at the school who he knew were Holocaust deniers.
As Latson’s lawyer contended, “Two or three parents were Holocaust deniers; Dr. Latson was pressured by one mother to confront them, and he declined. Confronting parents about their beliefs was outside the scope of his duties.”
The narrow 4-3 vote to reinstate Latson, which included back pay of $152,000, was reluctantly made by the school board and was apparently motivated by the fact that Latson threatened to bring a lawsuit against the school district that the district was told they couldn’t win.
In a previous case brought by Latson in August, which cost the district $106,000, an administrative judge ruled that while the principal’s actions merited punishment, they were not serious enough to establish “just cause” for termination.
Instead, due to the district’s “progressive discipline” policies, the judge ruled that the district was obligated to first reprimand Latson before considering his termination.
When the board originally fired Latson in 2018, he was cited for “ethical misconduct” and “failure to carry out job responsibilities.”
In reluctantly rehiring Latson as an employee of the school district, the board made it clear that the former principal would not return to his place of employment, Spanish River Community High School in Boca Raton, or even to any role on a school campus.
Parents who disagreed with the school board’s decision to started a petition demanding that the Palm Beach County school board reverse their decision.
“This is not only offensive … but it crosses the line into a hate crime or an antisemitic incident … This is a slap in the face to all Holocaust victims. We cannot allow antisemitism and discrimination to take hold in the school system,” the petition read in part.
The petition has currently garnered close to 23,000 signatures.
Morality in 2020
What prompted Latson’s comments in the first place?
Multiple reports about the case leave the question unanswered of whether or not Latson himself is (or was) a Holocaust denier. However, he has never issued an apology for his statements.
Last year, the district counseled Latson and he traveled to Washington, D.C. to visit the U.S. Holocaust Museum and learn more about the genocide of six million Jews perpetrated by the Nazis during World War II. The district, which also made it clear to Latson that the Holocaust took place, had previously asked the former principal to expand his school’s Holocaust curriculum.
“Every generation must recognize, and learn from, the atrocities of the Holocaust’s incomprehensible suffering and the enduring stain that it left on humankind,” Palm Beach County school board Chairman Frank Barbieri Jr. said in a statement in July 2019.
Yet, not taking a stand on this historical event is, in itself, taking a stand. First and foremost, it is a sanctioning of our current culture’s legitimization of antisemitism – which extends even to the halls of Congress.
Moreover, even if Latson himself is not a Holocaust denier, his shocking response to the parent’s request speaks to his unacceptable choice to eschew historical truth to create a “safe space” for and validate the “truths” of Holocaust deniers.
That safe spaces have taken over every corner of our society – from the political to the educational – is a sad commentary on the state of our morality.
Supporting these spaces are the disingenuous semantics that have also permeated our society (“my truth”/”your truth”), which serve to erase the line between the subjective and the objective. They leave little room for genuine political discussion, problem-solving or – as this case clearly illustrates – the study of historical events.