A Boca Raton, Florida high school principal has been removed from his post for denying that the Holocaust was a “factual, historical event.”
William Latson, of Spanish River High School, came under fire after email records revealed that one of his emails sent to a student’s parents last year said “not everyone believes the Holocaust happened” and that he “can’t say the Holocaust is a factual, historical event,” per The Palm Beach Post.
The mother, who remains unnamed to protect her child’s identity was flabbergasted by the principal’s response.
Latson has been reassigned to another position within the district.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. After the Mother Questioned Latson’s Comments, the Principal Doubled down on His Initial Statement
After the unnamed mother questioned Latson’s comments which defends the belief that the Holocaust did not happen, he continued to back his initial statement.
According to email documents obtained by The Palm Beach Post, Latson initially told the mother that the school provides a “variety of activities” for Holocaust education after the mother asked about the level of priority it has in the school’s curriculum, but followed it by explaining lessons are “not forced upon individuals as we all have the same rights but not all the same beliefs.”
“The Holocaust is a factual, historical event,” she responded hoping Latson would back down from his initial comments. “It is not a right or a belief.”
Instead of backing off, Latson doubled down. He cited his role to remain “politically neutral,” as a school administrator.
“Not everyone believes the Holocaust happened,” he wrote, according to email records. “And you have your thoughts, but we are a public school and not all of our parents have the same beliefs.”
“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 added.
2. The Response from Latson Lead the Mother to Launch a Year-Long Effort to Address the Education of the Holocaust and to Separate Fact from Myth
After Latson continued to stick to his guns about Holocaust education in his school, the mother took it upon herself to address the principal’s comments.
The mother met with Latson and another concerned parent where they discussed options for Holocaust education. According to The Palm Beach Post, the two mothers asked for the teachers to document their Holocaust readings and teachings, something that was initially met with acceptance but was ultimately ignored.
After the meeting, the other mother felt even worse about Latson’s position. “I came out of there feeling so much worse. How do you pick and choose history?,” she said.
The two parents and Latson seemed to have reached a compromise when she requested all 10th-grade English students to read “Night,” a classic Holocaust memoir by Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel. She also asked for Holocaust assemblies to be held for all grades, but according to The Palm Beach Post, that fell flat.
Outside of the meetings between Latson and concerned parents, his comments gained traction across the globe recently as international media outlets started to publish the story.
A petition which set a goal of 15,000 signatures was started on Change.org to demonstrate the desire for Latson’s termination.
3. Latson Regrets His Comments
In a statement to The Palm Beach Post, Latson apologized for his comments and said they were not representative of his actual beliefs on the Holocaust.
“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,” Latson wrote. “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.”
Latson pointed out that Spanish River High School Holocaust education standards exceed state requirements.
The principal also spent four days in Washington, D.C., touring the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. He said his time in the museum served as “a poignant lesson and reminder of one of the most horrific events in human history.”
4. Spanish River High School Has One of the Country’s Largest Jewish Student Populations
With Spanish River High School having on the largest Jewish student populations in the United States, tensions surround Latson and his comments have been appropriately high.
The mother, who remains nameless, told The Palm Beach Post, that she didn’t doubt that Latson knew the Holocaust was real but said her fear stemmed from Latson’s reluctance to confront parents and students who were Holocaust deniers.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that monitors hate groups categorizes Holocaust denial as a form of anti-semitism.
“Deniers of the Holocaust, the systematic murder of around 6 million Jews in World War II, either deny that such a genocide took place or minimize its extent,” the organization’s website states. “These groups (and individuals) often cloak themselves in the sober language of serious scholarship, call themselves “historical revisionists” instead of deniers, and accuse their critics of trying to squelch open-minded inquiries into historical truth.”
This particular mother is not the only one trying to implement Holocaust education and general genocide lessons in public schools, as movements across the nation have taken hold of the topic, including a now deceased Holocaust survivor in Oregon.
5. Principal William Latson Has Officially Been Reassigned & He Has Falsely Blamed the Parent for His Reassignment
Although Deputy Schools Superintendent Keith Oswald said that Latson’s emails weren’t reflective of him as an educator and wasn’t formally disciplined at the time of the initial outrage, the school district has officially reassigned Latson to a district position, per The Palm Beach Post.
“It is out of an abundance of concern and respect for the students and staff of Spanish River Community High School that school district administration has decided to reassign Principal William Latson effective immediately,” the school district of Palm Beach County wrote in a statement.
Initially, Oswald told The Post that Latson’s character should not be determined from just a couple of emails, but due to local, national and international backlash, the district decided to reassign the principal.
Florida Senator Rick Scott (R) even commented on the principal’s comments via Twitter.
“Fact that someone charged with educating children would be unable to speak unequivocally on the realities & horrors of the holocaust is incredibly concerning,” Scott wrote. “Our children and communities deserve better. There’s no excuse for anti-Semitism in any form.”
Palm Beach County School Board member Karen Brill, the board’s only Jewish member said Latson’s comments broke the trust between the school district and the Jewish community.
“The trust has been broken,” said Brill, who is running for county commission in a heavily Jewish district. “An apology will never erase the damage caused by his comments.”
State Rep. Randy Fine, Palm Bay (R), called for immediate discipline. Fine has sponsored legislation officially banning anti-Semitism in Florida public schools and said, “the law does not allow a Holocaust-denier to serve as a public school principal.”
Latson came out strongly against the anonymous parent who he blames for his reassignment.
“I have been reassigned to the district office due to a statement that was not accurately relayed to the newspaper by one of our parents,” Latson wrote in the message, obtained by The Palm Beach Post. “It is unfortunate that someone can make a false statement and do so anonymously and it holds credibility but that is the world we live in.”
Latson was not reassigned because of the anonymous parent’s statements, but because of his comments made to the parent.
Leaders have now called for the full termination of Latson, including Senator Rick Scott.
Scott took to Twitter Tuesday morning to share his disgust with Latson, calling for his firing, not his reassignment.
“There is no excuse for what he expressed. There is no excuse for holocaust denial. There is no excuse for anti-Semitism of any kind,” Senator Scott wrote.
Despite all of the backlash, there has only been silence from Superintendent Donald Fennoy, per The Palm Beach Post.