A Florida high school principal appeared to defend Holocaust deniers when he was reportedly asked by a parent how his school teaches about the World War II atrocity and wrote that “not everyone believes the Holocaust happened.”
The surprising response was revealed in emails between the parent and principal at Boca Raton’s Spanish River Community High School sent in April of 2018, The Palm Beach Post reported Friday, citing the results of a public records request.
The parent, who did not want her name published, told the Post that she had reached out to Principal William Latson about how his school prioritizes that part of world history. The mother mentioned a 1994 Florida mandate that requires Holocaust education in public schools. Oregon most recently passed its own such mandate.
Latson replied by saying that the school offers a one-day lesson to 10th graders but he said it’s not mandatory as some parents “don’t want their children to participate.”
“The Holocaust is a factual, historical event,” the mother reportedly responded to him. “It is not a right or a belief.”
Latson, however, protested.
“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,” he reportedly replied. “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.”
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. William Latson, principal of Boca Raton’s Spanish River Community High School
He added that the school presents information about the Holocaust to the students and allows them to make their own decisions about it. He said it does the same when it comes to slavery.
The mother and a second parent later met with Latson and discussed incorporating the Holocaust memoir “Night,” by Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, into the school’s required reading list. A request to have assemblies about the Holocaust for every grade level did not come to fruition, however, the mother told the Post. Deputy Schools Superintendent Keith Oswald told the paper that was because of a time constraint and said the assemblies would happen in the upcoming school year.
Latson, in a statement to the Post, apologized, saying the views he expressed in his emails “did not accurately reflect my professional and personal commitment to educating all students about the atrocities of the Holocaust.”
Latson, who was reportedly not disciplined over his conduct, visited Washington’s U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in the summer following the email exchange so that he could learn more about the tragedy.
He did not immediately respond to a HuffPost request for comment.
The Holocaust Memorial Museum considers Holocaust denial to be a form of anti-Semitism. Those that preach it are “generally motivated by hatred of Jews and build on the claim that the Holocaust was invented or exaggerated by Jews as part of a plot to advance Jewish interests,” the museum’s website states.
Intentionally denying or distorting the historical record threatens communal understanding of how to safeguard democracy and individual rights. From the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum website
The museum argues that it’s essential to confront such denial to prevent similar horrors from happening again.
“A society that tolerates antisemitism is susceptible to other forms of racism, hatred, and oppression,” the museum’s website states. “Intentionally denying or distorting the historical record threatens communal understanding of how to safeguard democracy and individual rights.”
Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube recently started to remove content from conspiracy theorists and deniers of such tragedies, including the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
YouTube, which began removing the content in June, did not say why it had decided to take this action now.
“We’ve been taking a close look at our approach towards hateful content in consultation with dozens of experts in subjects like violent extremism, supremacism, civil rights and free speech,” it said in a blog post.