When even the Southern Poverty Law Center disagrees with your position, you know you’re on shaky ground. It was that position that William Latson, principal of Spanish River High School in Boca Raton, Fla., found himself in in 2018 when he received an email from a parent inquiring about how the Holocaust being taught at Spanish River.
The woman made specific reference to Florida’s Holocaust Mandate, a requirement by the state department of education, which is summarized as follows:
Required Instruction – 1003.42(f)
The history of the Holocaust (1933-1945), the systematic planned annihilation of European Jews and other groups by Nazi Germany, a watershed event in the history of humanity, 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.
The response she received from Latson was lengthy, but the tenor of the answer touched off an alarm in her, especially his advice that “the curriculum is introduced but not forced upon individuals as we all have the same rights but not the same beliefs.”
Horrified, the woman wrote back according to The Palm Beach Post, “The Holocaust is a factual, historical event. It is not a right or a belief.”
She expected a chastened response. Instead, the veteran principal doubled down.
“Not everyone believes the Holocaust happened,” he wrote, according to email records obtained by The Palm Beach Post through a public records request. “And you have your thoughts, but we are a public school and not all of our parents have the same beliefs.”
He went on to say that as an educator he had “the role to be politically neutral but support all groups in the school.”
“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 wrote.
With his attitude, Latson would have made a perfect underling to Hitler himself. Like them at their trials at Nuremberg, Latson could assert he was just following orders.
Once the school district’s ranks became involved, Latson suddenly became more contrite. More enlightened, too. In a letter to the Post, he was careful to capitalize Holocaust, which he previously lower-cased:
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.
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 pointed out that Spanish River High’s educational offerings on the Holocaust exceed the state’s requirements.
What is most disturbing about this story is the ease with which a person charged with the responsibility of educating young minds can show such complacency toward one of the most brutal and horrific chapters in human history. One can only imagine how differently Latson would have behaved if the topic in question were the Middle Passage.