A former high school principal at Spanish River Community High School in Boca Raton, Florida, has been fired over comments he made in an email to a parent about his not being in a position to confirm to students that the Holocaust was “a factual, historical event.”
When a parent asked him about how the school teaches its students about the Holocaust, 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 district employee.”
Schools Superintendent Donald E. Fennoy II wrote to Latson to inform him that there was “just cause” to warrant his termination as principal due to “Ethical Misconduct and Failure to Carry out Job Responsibilities.” Fennoy sent the Notice of Recommendation for Termination of Employment on Oct. 11.
At a School Board hearing on Oct. 30 where Latson’s colleagues staunchly defended his record as an educator, Palm Beach County School Board voted 5-2 to terminate Latson’s employment. The termination will be effective on Nov. 21, and Latson has until Nov. 20 to file an appeal.
The situation arose when a parent emailed Latson to inquire as to how the Holocaust would be taught at Spanish River Community High School, suggesting that “it is supposed to be planned into history courses annually.” The parent added that, in their opinion, “the ball was dropped” in the past at other schools in the county — and they hoped it would not be the case at the school in Boca Raton, which has a large Jewish community.
The parent said that “It is heartbreaking that in this day and age anti-Semitic incidents are heavily on the rise and more people than ever are not educated on the horrors of the Holocaust.”
In his response, Latson stated that he had made contact with a Rabbi as a consultant “to guide me in the area and what is acceptable and not.” The school advertised such events, he said, but allowed students the opportunity to decline them. He also said that “The curriculum is to be introduced but not forced upon the individuals as we all have the same rights but not all the same beliefs.” The parent then asked him to clarify what this statement meant.
Latson wrote that “The clarification is that not everyone believes the Holocaust happened and you have your thoughts but we are a public school and not all of our parents will have the same beliefs…” He continued that “One must understand that in a public school setting the school can’t take a position but provide information and allow parents to work with their students on what they want their children to understand.”
He said that “I can’t say the Holocaust is a factual, historical event because I’m not in a position to do so as a school district employee.” He said that he allowed information about the Holocaust to be presented, but then allowed students and their parents “to make decisions about it accordingly.”
“I do the same with information about slavery,” wrote Latson, “I don’t take a position but allow for the information to be presented…”
In 1994, the Florida Legislature passed the Florida Holocaust Mandate relating to required instruction. According to the Mandate, “The new law requires all school districts to incorporate lessons on the Holocaust as part of public school instruction.”
“The Holocaust is to be taught across the curriculum from preparatory lessons in the primary and intermediate grades, through exploratory studies in the intermediate and middle school grades, and synthesizing projects by the conclusion of the senior high school experience. Holocaust content is to be infused in ways that are age-appropriate, interdisciplinary, and consistent with other required instruction.”
The authors of the mandate stressed that such teaching should help students understand “the ramifications of prejudice, racism, and stereotyping” as well as “what it means to be a responsible and respectful person.”
In a statement in July, the Chairman of the Palm Beach County School Board, Frank Barbieri Jr., said that “Every generation must recognize, and learn from, the atrocities of the Holocaust’s incomprehensible suffering and the enduring stain that it left on humankind.”
According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), “The Holocaust was the murder of six million Jews and millions of others by the Nazis and their collaborators during World War II.”