This month, the Palm Beach County School Board disgracefully decided, in a 4-3 vote, to rehire Holocaust denier William Latson, former principal of Spanish River High School in Boca Raton. In April 2018, in response to a parent questioning why the school’s Holocaust curriculum was not mandatory, Latson wrote that, “We all have the same rights but not all 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.”
The shocked parent wrote back, “The Holocaust is a factual, historical event. It is not a right or belief.” Instead of retracting his false statement and apologizing for his lapse in judgment, Latson doubled down: “Not everyone believes the Holocaust happened. You have your thoughts, but we are a public school, and not all of our parents have the same beliefs.”
Latson remained unrepentant even after the School Board fired him last year. In his farewell post, he again took no responsibility for his lack of judgment and blamed the parent who pressed him about Holocaust studies.
According to International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance guidelines, adopted by the U.S. State Department and close to 30 countries, Holocaust denial is a form of anti-Semitism. The problem is so severe that the Alliance created an entire task force dedicated to safeguarding the truth and combating distortions of the Holocaust. In his speech on Holocaust Remembrance Day in 2017, President Trump denounced anti-Semitism, describing a Holocaust denier as “an accomplice in this horrible evil.” There’s little question that Latson fits this description.
Latson was rehired after an administrative judge ruled that he should not have been fired, and that he should have been reprimanded or reassigned instead. The judge recommended he be rehired.
The School Board was not obligated to accept this recommendation, but it did. Board member Karen Brill, who voted against Latson’s rehiring, said, “If we rehire Dr. Latson, it is going be a stain on this school district that will never go away.”
Indeed, had the School Board stuck to its original decision, it would have demonstrated zero tolerance for anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. One board member, Chuck Shaw, who voted in favor of bringing Latson back, worried about the possibility of a costly legal battle if he wasn’t rehired. Instead, the board, unfortunately, made the even more costly decision to give Latson $152,000 in back pay, in addition to his six-figure salary.
The board’s appalling decision doesn’t just cost them financially; it contributes to a national failing on the part of public schools. It sends the message that Holocaust denial is a viable position and that knowing and telling the truth about the deadliest genocide the world has ever witnessed is not an imperative.
It’s no wonder that a recent national survey of 1,000 18-39 year-olds revealed that almost half of them could not name a single Nazi concentration camp. Even more of them grossly underestimated the number of Jews slaughtered during the Holocaust, erroneously believing that there were not more than 2 million killed. As shocking, almost 20 percent of those surveyed in New York incorrectly believed that Jews caused the Holocaust.
Facebook is finally taking the alarming rise in anti-Semitism seriously, recently announcing that posts denying the Holocaust will be deleted. The Palm Beach County School Board needs to take a lesson from Facebook. The School Board entrusted Latson, first and foremost, to be an exemplary educator, a model for the teachers in his school. By taking him back in any capacity, the School Board failed its students and sent them and their families the dangerous message that Holocaust denial and other forms of anti-Semitism will be excused and tolerated.
Sharona Whisler is executive director of the Zionist Organization of America, Florida Region.
The original article was posted in the Miami Herald.