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Lawmakers call for principal to be fired over Holocaust comments

Latson said “Not everyone believes the Holocaust happened”

Two Florida lawmakers are calling for a Palm Beach County high school principal to be fired for stating the Holocaust is not a “factual, historical event.”

Spanish River High School principal William Latson made the statement, first reported by The Palm Beach Post, in an April 2018 email to a student’s parent who was inquiring about the school’s Holocaust education curriculum.

“Not everyone believes the Holocaust happened,” he wrote in the email. “And you have your thoughts, but we are a public school and not all of our parents have the same beliefs.

“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 continued.

On Monday, Plantation Democratic state Sen. Lauren Book and Brevard Republican state Rep. Randy Fine, both of whom are Jewish, called for Latson to be fired.

“We read with dismay Andrew Marra’s July 5th article in the Palm Beach Post, ‘Spanish River High’s principal refused to call the Holocaust a fact,’ in which Spanish River High School Principal William Latson is quoted in email stating that lessons about the Holocaust are ‘not forced upon individuals as we all have the same rights but not the same beliefs,'” the pair said in a news release.

“When challenged by a parent who noted that the Holocaust is ‘not a right or belief,’ Principal Latson responded, ‘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 … I can’t say the Holocaust is a factual, historical event,’” they continued.

“As we know, the Holocaust happened. Its existence isn’t hinged upon a religious or moral belief system; this genocidal atrocity is a well-documented matter of absolute fact. Because of this truth, Holocaust education has been a requirement of state law since 1994.”

The pair then referenced a new law, passed during the 2019 Legislative Session and signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis during a trade mission to Israel, that mandates anti-Semitism be treated in the same manner as racism or other forms of discrimination.

The bill, HB 741, was sponsored by Fine. Book co-sponsored the Senate companion bill, SB 1272. The legislation passed both chambers unanimously.

“Imagine if Principal Latson had said in an email to an African-American parent that he could not and would not state that slavery is a factual, historical event. He would have been gone — one hundred percent justifiably — by the end of the day,” Book and Fine said.

“Our law now requires that anti-Semitism be treated in kind.

“As a result, we demand the immediate termination of Principal Latson. On behalf of the people of Palm Beach County and all good and honorable people of Florida, we demand a full and complete investigation into how such anti-Semitic conduct could have been tolerated and covered up by the school district’s bureaucracy for more than a year.

“We look forward to a reply from the school and district, and to a swift resolution of this matter — for the sake of our school children and the integrity of our great state.”

Since Latson’s email was published Friday, he has issued an apology.

“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,” Latson said in a prepared statement.

Book and Fine’s statement comes after Palm Beach County School Board chairman Frank Barbieri Jr. said Latson’s email is “being investigated at the highest levels of the District Administration.”

Latson has since been removed as Spanish River High School’s principal and placed in another position within Palm Beach County Schools.

Later Monday, Weston Democratic Rep. Richard Stark issued a statement praising the school district for Latson’s removal.

“We expect more from our educators than to cater to those who deny the truth that millions of Jewish people died in the Holocaust. Every new generation must learn from the horrors of the Holocaust, because that is the only way we can safeguard against it ever happening again,” Stark said in a news release.

“I applaud the decision to remove Mr. Latson from his role in the school, as he has shown himself unable to stand for truth over fiction. However, I am disappointed it took more than a year, and recent media attention, to force change. Furthermore, we will need to see if the Anti-Semitism law recently signed by the governor requires further action against Mr. Latson.”

Written By

Drew Wilson covers legislative campaigns and fundraising for Florida Politics. He is a former editor at The Independent Florida Alligator and business correspondent at The Hollywood Reporter. Wilson, a University of Florida alumnus, covered the state economy and Legislature for LobbyTools and The Florida Current prior to joining Florida Politics.

10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. susan

    July 9, 2019 at 1:16 am

    Have any of these parents come forward?
    In response to this part:
    ‘Not everyone believes the Holocaust happened … not all of our parents have the same beliefs …”

    • gary

      July 11, 2019 at 2:33 pm

      Problem is … It’s a fact! Not subject to belief. Now if he is simply explain to somebody in that context, then I get it.

  2. Cogent Observer

    July 9, 2019 at 9:05 am

    The statement was neutral and in fact, true. Not everyone does believe that it occurred–much less makes a career of it or the bedrock of his/her life. Respectfully everybody, get on with your lives.

    • Tim

      July 9, 2019 at 5:19 pm

      Its nota belief moron- its a FACT. You know this pesky things people like you can’t quite wrap their tiny pea brains around. As far as it being a bedrock. Its kinda important when both your grand parents and several aunts and uncles were brutally murdered by Nazis in concentration camps. Kinda of a big deal. Reality is reality, whether you ‘believe’ it or not. Sheeesh.

  3. Mintas Lanxor

    July 9, 2019 at 12:55 pm

    Latson would be the first one to scream bloody hell if an educator were to claim that he/she couldn’t say with absolute certainty that slave trade and slavery existed and that they were responsible for the deaths of five million people in North and South America as well as the Caribbean.

  4. Teacher in Florida

    July 9, 2019 at 2:35 pm

    So, are we lambasting this man for being ignorant or does he actually have sympathy for Holocaust Deniers? It’s a big distinction and it looks like he just didn’t know any better. Forgive him and teach him if he just needs educating. Use the whole experience to respectfully model how one is supposed react to ignorance. Now, if he actually has sympathies toward the Deniers, kick him out of the profession and use that as another example of how our society should react to such racist, bigoted thought.

    • Jonathan W

      July 9, 2019 at 2:57 pm

      Forgive him and teach him if he just needs educating? He’s the principal for god sake. If this is something he needs to be taught he’s not qualified for his position. He’s the one who should be setting these examples

    • gary

      July 10, 2019 at 6:19 pm

      @Teacher in Florida

      Wow a logical teacher in Florida no less. Nicely put Teach!

  5. Michell

    July 9, 2019 at 3:02 pm

    This should be the same reaction for anything. Holocaust Happen just like Slavery but our text books don’t accurately tell any of our history. American History books are flawed. We allow schools to teach Greek Mythology and never tell our own true history. Crispus Attucks was not the only black man to fight in the Revolutionary War. I know this now but that was the lie they told us. Holocaust should be shared in school districts just like all the other genocides. if we continue to hide history our Country will continue to keep moving forward the way it does at this very moment. We will not value life or every ones history.

  6. martineize

    July 9, 2019 at 5:26 pm

    This is why Dick and Jane graduate high school, and can’t read or construct a coherent sentence.

    It is because of educators such as this, who simply flow along with the “peter principle”, ie., they rise to the level of their incompetence.

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