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School board members of Palm Beach County have voted to rehire a former principal who made a highly controversial statement in 2018 many believe amounted to Holocaust denial.
In a 2018 email, then-Principal at Spanish River High School in Boca Raton, Fla., William Latson, who is black, wrote to a parent, “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 added that ”not everyone believes the Holocaust happened.”
“I do allow information about the Holocaust to be presented and allow students and parents to make decisions about it accordingly,” he wrote. “I do the same with information about slavery.”
There is ample evidence that both the Holocaust occurred and that slavery existed in the United States, though due to growing disagreement over the institution, Congress began moving to eliminate it as early as 1820 with the Missouri Compromise.
Latson’s Holocaust comment, though, is what outraged parents and students alike.
“He should have been fired 100 percent, and that’s offensive to people that have relatives in the Holocaust and to myself for being a Jewish man,” Jacob Shook, who graduated from Spanish River in 2017, told WPTV in July 2019.
“He’s teaching education and our children and he doesn’t even have his facts straight,” he added.
In an email published by The Palm Beach Post, Latson apologized.
“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,” he wrote, according to the paper.
The Palm Beach County School District announced last summer that Latson was reassigned to a district position “out of an abundance of concern and respect for the students and staff of Spanish River Community High School.”
“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. 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 said in an email to staffers defending himself following the reassignment, WFLX reported.
The school board voted 5-2 to fire him in October 2019 on grounds of “ethical misconduct” and “failure to carry out job responsibilities,” the Post noted in a separate report.
During a hearing with an administrative law judge in February, Latson argued that officials did not have the right to fire him. But at the hearing, Dr. Donald Fennoy, the district’s superintendent who is also black, testified that he backed the board’s decision to fire Latson especially after he wrote the email to staffers in which he suggested he was a victim of false allegations.
“Here in the middle of a chaotic situation…you know, part of being a leader, a principal, a superintendent, is to manage crisis management,” Fennoy said. “So to me, it’s like, why would we write…why would a statement be written from Dr. Latson to further inflame a situation that is completely out of hand, as far as I was concerned.
“That showed me a level of a lack of leadership, which then caused me to really think seriously around the next steps I was going to take,” he added.
But the board voted 4-3 on Wednesday to rehire Latson on the recommendation of the judge, and will receive his full back pay of $152,300, The New York Times reported.
As part of its decision, the board said Latson would be transferred to a position “commensurate with his qualifications.”
Board members offered differing opinions for supporting or opposing his rehiring.
“I am not defending his stupid statements,” board member Debra Robinson said at the meeting, according to the Times. “They actually disgust me, but I don’t think his statements represent the body of his work.”
But another member, Karen Brill, said rehiring Latson “is going to be a stain on this school district that will never go away, and it’s not just a local stain in Palm Beach County, it’s a national stain.”
A petition at Change.org to force the board to reconsider its decision to rehire Latson has, as of this writing, nearly 22,000 signatures out of a goal of 25,000.
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