Rehiring of principal who refused to call Holocaust a fact to be reconsidered – Palm Beach Post

Posted By on October 21, 2020

Andrew Marra|Palm Beach Post

Under a barrage of criticism, Palm Beach County School Board members are expected to revisit their decision to reinstate a former principal who ignited international controversy by refusing to say the Holocaust was a fact.

School Board Chairman Frank Barbieri has proposed board members on Wednesday overturnlast weeks 4-3 vote to rehire former Spanish River High Principal William Latson.

Barbieri's proposal was placed Friday on the board's meeting agenda for Wednesday.

New: Fla. education chief moves to strip license from principal in Holocaust furor

If at least one board memberchanges his or her vote, Latson could find himself removed once more from the School District's employ. Board member Barbara McQuinnsaid Friday that she was open to doing so if the board's attorneys present valid legal grounds.

Latson was fired by the board last October after launching a political furor by telling a parent that he 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."

But an administrative law judge concluded Latsons actions did not merit termination and he ought to be rehired.

More: Principal who refused to call Holocaust a fact is rehired, given back pay

Board members reluctantly voted last week to rehire him and award him $152,000 in back payover objections from dozens of residents and a fierce dissent from Karen Brill, the boards only Jewish member.

Since then, board members have been flooded with hundreds of emails and phone calls from outraged residents, many of them relatives of Holocaust victims and survivors.

Later Friday, Floridas education commissioner inserted himself into the roiling controversy, directing his administration to strip the principal's educator certificate. [Read the full story here.]

Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said former Spanish River High School Principal William Latson took advantage of his position of trust and that state officials had a duty to remove the certificate that authorizes him to educate public school students.

The safety of Florida students was recently jeopardized when it was reported that Mr. Latson, a principal in Palm Beach County, took advantage of his position of trust, he wrote in a letter to the chief of the states Bureau of Educator Certification. I am committed to minimizing any potential threats to Florida students.

Barbieri, who voted against rehiring Latson last week, said Friday that he did not know whether any of the four board members who supported rehiring him intended to change their vote.

But given the extensive public backlash, he said they deserved a chance to reconsider.

Theyre taking a lot of criticism in the press and in emails, he said. I wanted to give any of them an opportunity if they wanted to to change their vote.

In an interview, McQuinn said she voted to rehire Latson because the board's attorneys advised that she do so based on the judge's recommended order.

But she said she was outraged by Latson's actions and that, if a legal case can be made for reversing her vote, she would gladly do so.

I am appalled that he is our School Board employee," she said. "I am actually appalled.

Latson and his attorney did not respond to messages seeking comment.

U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, a Palm Beach County Democrat, added his voice Wednesday to the mounting criticism of the board's decision, saying last week's vote "reflects poorly on our community and is an insult to the thousands of Holocaust survivors who have made South Florida their home."

The Palm Beach County School Board demonstrated a stunning lack of judgment and ignorance in its decision to reinstate Principal William Latson to the School District of Palm Beach County, he wrote in a statement. For an educator to equivocate on the Holocaust is without question misconduct, deeply offensive, and must never be tolerated.

More: Reinstated after Holocaust uproar, former principal remains unapologetic

The four board members who voted last weekto rehire Latson are McQuinn, Marcia Andrews, Debra Robinson and Chuck Shaw. Three of the four Andrews, McQuinn and Shaw are former principals who served as district administrators along with Latson.

The three who voted against rehiring Latson areBarbieri, Brill and Erica Whitfield.

Andrews, Robinson and Shaw did not respond to messages seeking comment Friday.

Latson found himself at the center of a political storm in July 2019, when his comments about the Holocaust were revealed in a Palm Beach Post article.

In an email exchange with a school parent, Latson wrote in April 2018 that students could opt out of Holocaust lessons because "not everyone believes the Holocaust happened" and that as an educator he had "the role to be politically neutral."

When the parent responded to insist the Holocaust was a historical fact, he responded that "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."

The comments prompted international controversy when they became public, coming at a time of increased concern about anti-Semitism in the U.S. and Europe.

Latson apologized and was quickly removed from his position at the school. But some political leaders, including U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, called for Schools Superintendent Donald Fennoy to end Latson'semployment.

When Latson, in a farewell message to his faculty, blamed the controversy on "false statements" by the parent, the calls to fire him were joined by ADL Florida; state Sen. Kevin Rader, D-Delray Beach; and state Rep. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton.

Under increasing pressure, Fennoy recommended Latson be terminated, and the School Board approved his firing in a 5-2 vote.

In his appeal, Latson argued that his offenses did not amount to "just cause" to terminate his contract, and that his firing was a ploy by the district to defuse the intense criticism that his comments generated.

In his ruling, the judge agreed. The district's "progressive discipline" policies required Latson to be reprimanded first before termination could even be considered, he said.

Board members said last week they had been assured by district officials that Latson would not work on a school campus. Now back on district staff, records show Latson has been placed in the district's assessment department as a "principal on special assignment."


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Rehiring of principal who refused to call Holocaust a fact to be reconsidered - Palm Beach Post

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