William Latson, the Florida high school principal who refused to say the Holocaust was factual, has been fired.
The principal of the Spanish River Community High School in Boca Raton came under national fire in July for an email he sent to a parent in April 2018 that said as a public servant, he had to remain “neutral” and not confirm that the Holocaust happened because some people deny it.
“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,” one of the emails, obtained by the Palm Beach Post, said. “I do allow information about the Holocaust to be presented and allow students and parents to make decisions about it accordingly. I do the same with information about slavery.”
On Wednesday, the school board voted 5-2 to fire Latson under the recommendation of Superintendent Donald E. Fennoy II. Latson has the ability to appeal the decision, which will go into effect Nov. 21.
Latson had been principal at the school for more than a decade before being reassigned to an unspecified position in July after the emails went public. The largely Jewish community was outraged by Latson’s comments and began a Change.org petition to remove him. Thousands signed it.
According to the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Latson’s lawyer, Thomas Elfers, told board members his client was not a Holocaust denier.
“These are the facts: He is not anti-Semitic; he believes the Holocaust is factual,” Elfers reportedly said.
Latson’s email came when a parent asked him about the Holocaust curriculum, which has been a state mandate since 1994. Latson wrote that he remains politically neutral about the genocide because some parents believe it did not happen.
During World War II, the German Nazi regime was responsible for the mass murder of six million Jews and millions of others, including homosexual people and Romani people. The fact that the Holocaust occurred is not up for debate, but conspiracy theories that the genocide was a hoax are popular. Historians have pointed to facts and evidence that directly debunk deniers’ claims, including documentation and photographs by eyewitnesses and Nazis themselves.
Elfers argued Latson was being punished for merely sending a “poorly-worded email,” and also said the school district knew about the exchange for more than a year but did not take action until the story got national attention, according to the Sun Sentinel.
Anti-Semitism has been on the rise in the U.S. According to the Anti-Defamation League, in 2017, anti-Semitic incidents increased by 60%. Just over a year ago, the mass shooting at the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue left 11 people dead.
In response to Latson’s firing, the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County, which represents survivors of the Holocaust and relatives of those murdered, released a statement to the New York Times.
“We are grateful for Superintendent Donald Fennoy’s leadership and commitment to a thorough investigation resulting in this vote by the school board,” Matthew C. Levin, the group’s chief executive, said in the statement. “Latson’s abhorrent denial of the Holocaust is unacceptable, and there is no place in our community, and certainly not in our education system, for such unethical ignorance.”