A Florida high school principal who told a parent that he couldn’t “say the Holocaust is a factual, historical event” will not have his contract renewed, district officials said Wednesday.
In a video to the community, Palm Beach County Superintendent Donald Fennoy said he was recommending to the county school board that the contract of Principal William Latson of Spanish River Community High School not be renewed. Frank A. Barbieri Jr., chair of the School Board of Palm Beach County, said his panel would support such a recommendation from the superintendent.
“There has been enormous concern over the principal’s statement, and while he has apologized for what he said, it is not tenable for him to lead the school,” Fennoy said in a brief video. “I have lost confidence in his leadership.”
The school district leadership had come under intense pressure from legislators and politicians to fire the principal. State education officials told the district they would come to investigate the situation, and Jeffrey P. Feingold, chair of the Republican Jewish Coalition who was appointed by President Trump to serve as a member of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, called Barbieri about the incident.
Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran sent a letter to Fennoy, which said that he will “request an explanation of the manner in which the district and the school meets the requirements of Section 1003.42(2)(g), which requires that schools faithfully teach the history of the Holocaust and that the Holocaust be taught in a manner that leads to an understanding of the ramifications of prejudice, racism and stereotyping.”
It says that Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed a law in May that prohibits discrimination based on religion in Florida’s public education system. It specifically mentions anti-Semitism and gives as an example of discriminatory behavior "accusing Jews as a people or the State of Israel of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.”
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 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 that “not everyone believes the Holocaust happened.”
Latson was removed from his post, and officials said he would get a district job — at least until Wednesday, when the superintendent said Latson was effectively being fired.
In his video message, Fennoy said that he wanted to address “the distress, the anger and the heartbreak that this incident has caused our community,” adding that he, too, shared “that distress.”
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).