UPDATE 7/9/2019: Spanish River High School principal William Latson was reportedly removed from his position for saying that the Holocaust was a theory, not a historical fact.
“In addition to being offensive, the principal’s statement is not supported by either the School District Administration or the School Board," read a statement from the Palm Beach County School District sent to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
Florida high school principal William Latson reportedly told the mother of a student, “Not everyone believes the Holocaust happened” regarding the history curriculum.
According to 2018 emails obtained by The Palm Beach Post, Latson of Spanish River High School in Boca Raton, Fla. said that Holocaust education is “to be introduced but not forced upon individuals, as we all have the same right but not all the same beliefs.”
Latson was answering the mother’s question on how that portion of WWII history was prioritized — the school holds annual Holocaust assemblies and focused one-day lessons for 10th graders. “We advertise it to the 10th grade parents as [there] are some who don’t want their children to participate and we have to allow them the ability to decline,” warned Latson in the email.
That mother, who did not want the newspaper to publish her name, reportedly told Latson, “The Holocaust is a factual, historical event. It is not a right or a belief.”
However, the principal insisted, “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, my thoughts or beliefs have nothing to do with this because I am a public servant. I have the role to be politically neutral but support all groups in the school...”
He added, “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.” Latson says his philosophy remains the same for slavery.
The mother (and another parent) met with Latson and administrators, challenging them on supposed lessons that her child claimed weren’t being taught, reported The Palm Beach Post. “I came out of there feeling so much worse,” the mother told the paper. “How do you pick and choose history?”
The mother asked that students read the memoir Night by Holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel and for Holocaust assemblies for all grade levels. Since, the school has implanted the reading material but not the assemblies.
“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 told The Palm Beach Post on Friday. “It is critical that, as a society, we hold dear the memory of the victims and hold fast to our commitment to counter anti-Semitism.”
Palm Beach County School Board chairman Frank A. Barbieri, Jr. tells Yahoo Lifestyle that it “...is, and always has been, committed to teaching all students, in every grade level, a historically accurate Holocaust curriculum; one which leaves no room for erroneous revisions of fact or the purge of anti-semitism.”
Barbieri, Jr. continued in the written statement, “Every generation must recognize, and learn from, the atrocities of the Holocaust’s incomprehensible suffering and the enduring stain that it left on humankind. It is only through high quality education, and thought provoking conversations, that history won’t repeat itself.”
The district has a nationally-recognized Holocaust curriculum that surpasses requirements set by the state of Florida, he says, which includes: Holocaust Studies electives and projects, and an award-winning administrator who solely focuses on the topic. “It is now the duty of School District Administration to press forward with their ongoing review of the situation,” wrote Barbieri, Jr. “As Board Chairman, I assure you that this situation is being investigated at the highest levels of the District Administration.”
Deputy Schools Superintendent Keith Oswald told the Palm Beach Post that assemblies are slated for the 2019-2020 school year. He says that Latson was not disciplined for his comments.
Last summer, Latson reportedly took a four-day trip to Washington, D.C. to tour the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum for “a poignant lesson and reminder of one of the most horrific events in human history.”
“It was a hastily, poorly written email that he apologized for,” Oswald told The Palm Beach Post. “That’s some of the challenge that we face when we email back and forth instead of picking up the phone.”
Karen Brill, the only Jewish school board member told The Palm Beach Post, “The Holocaust is a historical fact, and I am appalled that anyone in our district believes that its teaching may be opted out of.”
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