A Florida high school principal who said he couldn't mandate Holocaust education because "not everyone believes the Holocaust happened" has been removed from the job, school district officials said.
William Latson, the now-former principal of Spanish River Community High School in Boca Raton, said in an April 2018 email to a parent who'd inquired about how the Holocaust would be taught that he had to be "politically neutral" on the subject because "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,” Latson said in his correspondence to the unnamed mother, which was made public by the Palm Beach Post on Friday.
In his emails, Latson said the school does offer students opportunities to learn about the Holocaust, including through an annual assembly, but it cannot be "forced upon individuals because we all have the same rights but not all the same beliefs."
On the contrary, instruction about the Nazi genocide that killed 6 million Jews is mandated in Florida public schools.
According to the Florida education code, "the systematic, planned annihilation of European Jews and other groups by Nazi Germany, a watershed event in the history of humanity, [is] to be taught in a manner that leads to an investigation of human behavior, an understanding of the ramifications of prejudice, racism, and stereotyping, and an examination of what it means to be a responsible and respectful person, for the purposes of encouraging tolerance of diversity in a pluralistic society and for nurturing and protecting democratic values and institutions."
After Latson's emails became public, nearly 10,000 people signed an online petition calling for his resignation.
Several Florida lawmakers joined the calls for Latson's removal, with Republican Sen. Rick Scott tweeting that it is "incredibly concerning" that "someone charged with educating children would be unable to speak unequivocally on the realities and horrors of the Holocaust."
Two state politicians — a Democrat and a Republican, both of whom are Jewish — put out a statement demanding the principal's firing and "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."
In a Monday statement, the School District of Palm Beach County announced that Latson would no longer serve as principal. Instead, he will be reassigned to an unspecified district position.
Latson had made a "grave error in judgment" by saying he couldn't say whether or not the Holocaust was a factual event, the school district said, adding that his beliefs are "not supported" by district officials.
After learning of the "offensive" emails, district officials met with Latson and instructed him "to further expand the Holocaust curriculum at Spanish River." He also spent "several days at the United States Holocaust Museum to increase his personal knowledge."
"The School District of Palm Beach County is, and always has been, working diligently to be a leader in mandatory Holocaust education for students in grades K-12," the statement read. "The District's curriculum is based on historical fact."
Latson apologized for the emails in a statement to the Palm Beach Post, saying that they do not represent his beliefs about the Holocaust. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment from BuzzFeed News.
“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.
“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,” he added.
The chairman of the school board, Frank A. Barbieri Jr., put out a statement saying that all students in every grade level in the district are taught "a historically accurate Holocaust curriculum; one which leaves no room for erroneous revisions of fact or the scourge of anti-Semitism."
"Every generation must recognize, and learn from, the atrocities of the Holocaust’s incomprehensible suffering and the enduring stain that it left on humankind," Barbieri said. "It is only through high quality education, and thought provoking conversations, that history won’t repeat itself."
The past few years have seen a surge in hate crimes against Jews, with the number of anti-Semitic attacks more than doubling in 2018, according to an Anti-Defamation League report.
In April, a shooter killed one person and injured three at a synagogue in Poway, California, after sharing a manifesto on 8chan that railed against Jews.
In October, 11 Jews were killed in a shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, allegedly by a neo-Nazi who railed against Jews, immigrants, and refugees online while pushing a white supremacist agenda.
Over the past few years across the US, many synagogues, cemeteries, and other places frequented by Jews have been vandalized with swastikas and anti-Semitic slurs.