Principal fired for second time over Holocaust remarks

South Florida Sun Sentinel | by Scott Travis | November 2, 2020

The principal who made controversial remarks about the Holocaust has been fired for a second time.

The Palm Beach County School Board voted unanimously to rescind an Oct. 7 vote to rehire William Latson, former principal at Spanish River High in Boca Raton.

The earlier 4-3 vote was based on the ruling of an administrative law judge that Latson was improperly fired in 2019, but Chairman Frank Barbieri called for a new vote, saying School Board members may not have realized the judge’s decision was a recommendation

Latson made comments in a 2018 email saying that as a school district employee, he could not confirm that the Holocaust was a factual event.

The board’s decision to rehire him last month created a huge national backlash, and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said he planned to take disciplinary action on Latson’s license. The School Board received thousands of comments from all over the world from Holocaust survivors, their family members and others outraged by Latson’s comments.

Board members Marcia Andrews, Debra Robinson, Barbara McQuinn and Chuck Shaw reversed their earlier vote.

“I heard your calls,” Andrews said to those who voiced concern to the School Board. “I’m going to rescind my vote. I’m going to fix this today.”

McQuinn, a former principal, said she changed her mind after getting more insight, including from a Jewish woman she admired.

“I’m a rule follower,” McQuinn said. “But there are times when exceptions are warranted.”

Board members Erica Whitfield, Frank Barbieri and Karen Brill voted against rehiring Latson last month.

The School Board played a recorded message from Latson, similar to one he released on YouTube last week.

“I am not a Holocaust denier,” he said in the recording. “I have never been a Holocaust denier. I am sorry that my comments caused people to think that.”

Robert S. Cohen, an administrative law judge, who heard an appeal from Latson, ruled in August that the school district failed to prove he “engaged in misconduct in office, incompetence, or gross insubordination by a preponderance of the evidence.”

The judge also said Latson had no prior discipline, so terminating him violated the district’s progressive discipline practices. However, several board members said that finding was an error, that there is no progressive discipline requirement for administrators.

Superintendent Donald Fennoy said Oct. 21 that he plans to commission an independent investigation into what went wrong.

The School Board expected to have a final vote on Latson’s fate that same day, but district policy said they must first listen to public comments. About 1,300 voice mails arrived, which School Board members vowed to listen to at home over the past week. The comments were also available on the district’s website for the public.

Although Fennoy recommended the rehiring of Latson at the urging of a judge and lawyers, he said “my lack of faith in Dr. Latson’s leadership remains the same.”

Fennoy was criticized after his administrators allowed Latson to avoid discipline for a year after learning of the email in which the principal said he couldn’t confirm the Holocaust actually happened.

The controversy dates to 2018 when, in email conversations with a parent, Latson detailed his efforts to implement the school’s Holocaust curriculum, a state mandate since 1994. He wrote that not every family had been amenable to the lessons.

In 2018, Latson told a parent in an email, “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.” Fennoy didn’t discipline him until it hit the media a year later.

“I work to expose students to certain things, but not all parents want their students exposed so they will not be and I can’t force that issue,” Latson wrote.

The School Board fired Latson, who had led Spanish River since 2011, last year for being unavailable after the comments he made infuriated Spanish River parents and alumni, as well as Holocaust survivors and people working to combat anti-Semitism.

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