Principal Who Tried to Stay ‘Politically Neutral’ About Holocaust Is Removed
“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,” said the principal of a high school in Boca Raton, Fla.A high school principal in Florida has been removed from his position over his refusal to state that the Holocaust was a factual historical event, saying that he had to stay “politically neutral” about the World War II-era genocide of six million Jews.
“Not everyone believes the Holocaust happened,” the principal, William Latson of Spanish River Community High School in Boca Raton, Fla., wrote in an email exchange with an unidentified parent in April 2018. He said that the school offered an assembly and courses on the Holocaust, but that they were optional and could not be “forced upon” all students.
. . .
The comments set off an intense backlash in South Florida, which has a significant Jewish population and has among the highest concentrations of Holocaust survivors in the world. Thousands signed an online petition calling for Mr. Latson’s resignation, and on Monday, the Palm Beach County school district announced that he would be stripped of his position as principal and reassigned to another job in the district.
The debate comes as memory of the Holocaust is fading and anti-Semitism is on the rise. Florida is among the states working to combat that; under state law, all school districts must offer Holocaust education. In 2018, the gunman who killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., about a 20-minute drive from Spanish River Community High School, opened fire during one of these lessons, a class called History of the Holocaust.
. . .
In its statement, the school district said that Mr. Latson had made “a grave error in judgment” when he had refused to state the Holocaust as fact in the email. Officials counseled him in a series of meetings, and he also spent several days at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to increase his awareness, the district said.
Mr. Latson, who did not respond to a request for comment on Monday, also apologized in a statement to The Palm Beach Post. “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 said.
But by Monday, school officials had decided that Mr. Latson had become a “major distraction.” “It is, therefore, in the best interest of students and the larger school community to reassign Mr. Latson to a District position,” the district said.
. . .
A study released in 2018 found that even among adults, many Americans lacked basic knowledge of the Holocaust, a problem that was especially pronounced among people ages 18 to 34.
For example, 31 percent of Americans, and 41 percent of millennials, believed that two million or fewer Jews had been killed in the Holocaust; in fact, the number is around six million. Forty-one percent of Americans, and 66 percent of millennials, could not say what the death camp Auschwitz was. And 52 percent of Americans wrongly thought Hitler had come to power through force....