A Florida high school principal was removed from his job and reassigned Monday after writing in an email to a parent that he couldn’t “say the Holocaust is a factual, historical event.” The decision to remove the principal came amid a firestorm of criticism and after he had apologized — and even after he spent a few days at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Principal William Latson of Spanish River Community High School in Palm Beach County was removed from his position and will be given a district job, at least temporarily, school system officials said. The county’s superintendent and school board could take further action, they said.
Legislators in the state have also called for Latson to be fired. And the episode caught the attention of Jeffrey P. Feingold, chair of the Republican Jewish Coalition who was appointed by President Trump in May to serve as a member of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council. Feingold called the school system Monday, and Frank A. Barbieri Jr., chair of the School Board of Palm Beach County, said: “He told me that there is no room anywhere in any school system on the planet for an anti-Semite.”
The controversy erupted over statements Latson made to a parent who had emailed him asking about Holocaust education at the school in Boca Raton, which has a large Jewish population.
The Palm Beach County school system has included Holocaust education at all grade levels, Barbieri said, and is one of the few school districts that has a curriculum administrator dedicated solely to Holocaust studies education (who recently won an award for excellence in Holocaust education).
The Palm Beach Post first published copies of the email exchange last week between the principal and a parent. One of the principal’s messages said, “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.” He also said “not everyone believes the Holocaust happened.”
Latson gave a statement to the newspaper, saying:
“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."
County officials asked him to voluntarily step down. When he didn’t, they reassigned him Monday, said officials in the school system who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the incident. By Monday afternoon, Latson was not pictured on the school’s website.
The school board released a statement Monday (see text below) saying:
Mr. Latson made a grave error in judgment in the verbiage he wrote in an email 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.” In addition to being offensive, the principal’s statement is not supported by either the School District Administration or the School Board.
The statement said Latson was counseled about his response to the parent and was “instructed to further expand the Holocaust curriculum at Spanish River.” He also spent “several days at the United States Holocaust Museum to increase his personal knowledge,” it said.
Still, the statement said: “Despite these efforts, his leadership has become a major distraction for the school community.”
Barbieri issued his own statement saying:
The School Board of Palm Beach County is, and always has been, committed to teaching all students, in every grade level, a historically accurate Holocaust curriculum; one which leaves no room for erroneous revisions of fact or the scourge of anti-Semitism.
Every generation must recognize, and learn from, the atrocities of the Holocaust’s incomprehensible suffering and the enduring stain that it left on humankind. It is only through high quality education, and thought provoking conversations, that history won’t repeat itself.
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