The Palm Beach County School Board narrowly voted 4-3 Wednesday to rehire a principal who ignited a nationwide controversy last year when he told a parent that he “can’t say the Holocaust is a factual, historical event” and “not everyone believes the Holocaust happened.”
The controversy began when a mother asked the former principal, William Latson, about the school’s curriculum on the Holocaust.
“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 replied to the mother, emphasizing that it is his job to be “politically neutral.”
The mother replied in disbelief, “The Holocaust is a factual, historical event. It is not a right or belief.”
“Not everyone believes the Holocaust happened,” Latson said back to the mother. “You have your thoughts, but we are a public school and not all of our parents have the same beliefs.”
The school board previously voted 5-2 last October to fire the principal on grounds of “ethical misconduct” and “failure to carry out job responsibilities.”
But Judge Robert S. Cohen of the Division of Administrative Hearings in Tallahassee, Florida ruled in August that there was not a “preponderance of the evidence” that suggests Watson “engaged in misconduct in office, incompetence, or gross insubordination.”
“There was, therefore, no just cause for his suspension and termination,” the judge wrote. “The transfer of Dr. Latson to another position within the District, a discretionary move, however, is warranted based upon his poor choices in communicating to a parent his ‘neutral’ position on the factual basis for the Holocaust.”
The school board listened to 96 minutes of voice recordings from people who almost universally condemned Latson’s actions and asked that he not be rehired.
“I am disgusted by the fact that this person would be getting back pay and get invited to come back to a role as principal or teacher, somebody who says they can’t say whether the Holocaust happened or not,” one person, who claimed to a political science professor at the University of Florida, said.
“The Holocaust is very well established, very well documented, and needs to be taught to our students so that we can all make sure that such atrocities and ethnic cleansings do not occur in the future,” another concerned Florida citizen said. “As such, it would be a very bad mistake to reinstate Mr. Latson to his position.”
Judge Cohen recommended that Watson be transferred “to a position within the District, as determined by the superintendent, commensurate with his qualifications.” It is unclear when or where that new assignment will take place.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.