The principal at Spanish River Community High School in Boca Raton, Florida told a parent the school couldn’t teach kids more about the Holocaust because, as a public school, they had to remain “neutral” on political issues.
As if the Holocaust was up for debate and not a historical fact.
The parent in question just wanted to know how the Holocaust was being taught. Sure, there was a guest speaker one night and an elective class on the subject, but those were voluntary and most students weren’t exposed to either. The parent wanted to know what all students received as far as Holocaust lessons, since Florida’s state curriculum requires it.
Principal William Latson‘s response was anything but encouraging.
… As far as holocaust studies and the curriculum it can be dealt with in a variety of ways. The curriculum is to be introduced but not forced upon individuals as we all have the same rights but not all the same beliefs…
So Holocaust denial needs to be respected…? Is this how they deal with evolution and climate change, too?!
The parent in question gave Latson the benefit of the doubt, hoping he had just expressed himself poorly.
Nope. He doubled-down on his comment. Andrew Marra of the Palm Beach Post explains:
“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.
Latson made these comments more than a year ago, and the parent (who chose to remain anonymous) has been trying to draw public attention to him ever since. The school district did nothing to seriously admonish Latson and they didn’t put in any reforms to prevent Holocaust denialism from taking hold. (One suggestion was to have sophomores read Elie Wiesel‘s Night, rather than just some select passages, but the district didn’t pass it. Another was to have assemblies about the Holocaust for all grade levels instead of just 10th grade; that wasn’t adopted either.)
Latson has since come around to apologizing, kind of, saying it was just a poor choice of words:
In a statement to The Post, Latson apologized for the way he expressed himself in his emails, saying it was not indicative of his actual beliefs or regard for historical fact.
“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 wrote.
“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 continued. He pointed out that Spanish River High’s educational offerings on the Holocaust exceed the state’s requirements.
The Holocaust is taught, he said, in ninth- and 10th-grade English classes, as a component of U.S. history and world history courses, as a separate elective course and in an annual assembly featuring a keynote speaker.
That response is promising, but his past actions don’t match up with his recent comments. He was still reluctant to treat the Holocaust with the seriousness it deserves when he met with the parent (and another mother) weeks after that email exchange. While he insisted the Holocaust was taught in school, he wouldn’t require teachers to document their lessons and readings. Nor would he definitively say the event was real.
That was a year ago. Since then, he has put in place a policy that all sophomores read Night. (Even if the district doesn’t require it, his school will.) He also took a trip to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Those assemblies for all grade levels will also occur beginning this coming school year.
But you have to wonder how much of this is in response to bad publicity — and the continued efforts of those parents — instead of a desire to make sure kids understand the atrocity that occurred within the lifetime of people who are still alive today.
To question the Holocaust is to deny the Holocaust. The students need to be educated on it enough so that they never give the kind of response Latson did to this parent.