Principal Ousted After His Comments About the Holocaust

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A Florida high school principal has been removed from his job after telling a parent in an email he had to be “politically neutral” about the Holocaust.

Spanish River High School Principal William Latson's email exchange with the parent created a furor in Boca Raton, the home of many Holocaust survivors and their descendants, and spurred an investigation by the Palm Beach County School District.

Latson has been reassigned to an unspecified school district position, the school district said in a statement. A new principal has not yet been named.

“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 district said Monday.

In an email exchange last year with the parent, Latson said some do not believe there was a Holocaust, the systematic destruction during World War II of 11 million people, including 6 million Jews.

“Not everyone believes the Holocaust happened and you have your thoughts but we are a public school and not all of our parents have the same beliefs so they will react differently," Latson wrote. “I have the role to be politically neutral but support all groups at the school.”

Latson detailed his efforts to implement the school’s Holocaust curriculum, a state mandate since 1994, but wrote that not every family has been amenable to the lessons.

“I work to expose students to certain things but not all parents want their students exposed so they will not be and I can’t force that issue,” Latson wrote. “I do allow information about the Holocaust to be presented and allow students and parents to make decisions about it accordingly. I do the same with information about slavery ...”

Several petitions circulated that asked the School Board to fire Latson, who had led Spanish River since 2011. He could not be reached for comment Monday.

Spanish River parents and alumni condemned what they called the insensitivity of Latson’s comments, considering the large population of Holocaust survivors and their descendants in Boca Raton and South Florida. More than 10,000 survivors are estimated to live in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties, the second largest concentration in the United States after New York.

A petition on that sought Latson’s dismissal got more than 6,000 signatures.

What Latson wrote was "appalling, disgusting,” said Robin Rubin, whose children graduated from the school. “I think he needs to leave Boca Raton.”

Some parents said they had good experiences with Latson and appreciated his attitude toward the Holocaust. Tom Berger, whose daughter graduated in May, recalled that Latson allowed Berger’s daughter to make up classwork to go on the March of the Living, a two-week Holocaust pilgrimage for teenagers to Poland and Israel.

“There’s a personal aspect to this because so many of our families were Holocaust survivors," Berger said. “Everything he does is going to be questioned now. To us, he was always helpful and kind.”

School Board Chairman Frank Barbieri Jr. issued a statement affirming the school district’s commitment to Holocaust education. He said school district leaders are reviewing the incident.

“As Board Chairman, I assure you that this situation is being investigated at the highest levels of the District Administration,” he wrote.

Several Jewish organizations are planning to offer additional Holocaust education to Spanish River and its teachers, including the Ruth & Norman Rales Jewish Family Services, which assists 400 Holocaust survivors in the Boca Raton area, said Danielle Hartman, chief executive officer.

“We are planning on reaching out to Principal Latson to offer a Holocaust sensitivity training for the faculty and administration and to ensure that the memory of the Holocaust is never forgotten and never minimized,” Hartman said.

Latson was not trying to hide his interactions with the parent, said Sharyn Schneiderman, a member of Spanish River’s School Advisory Council and a former PTSA president. He told the council in May 2018 that some parents were unhappy with the way the school was teaching the Holocaust.

“He’s dealing with a thousand of these parents and he’s trying to be responsive but he’s got all these things he’s juggling,” said Carlos Romero, parent of a recent graduate. “I don’t think his life needs to be eviscerated over this mistake.”

But the district said the issue had created an uproar they sought to quell.

"Based on a series of meetings with the Regional Office, Mr. Latson was counseled about the choices he made in responding to a parent in email messages. Additionally, he 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.

“Despite these efforts, his leadership has become a major distraction for the school community. It is, therefore, in the best interest of students and the larger school community to reassign Mr. Latson to a District position.”

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