A high school principal in Florida who refused to say that the Holocaust was “a factual, historical event” because he had to stay “politically neutral” should not have been fired, a judge ruled on Thursday.
The principal, William Latson, was removed from his post at Spanish River Community High School in Boca Raton last year, after an April 2018 email exchange with a student’s parent became public. He should have been reprimanded or reassigned to another position at the Palm Beach County school board, according to Judge Robert S. Cohen of the Division of Administrative Hearings in Tallahassee, Fla.
The school district failed to prove that Mr. Latson had “engaged in misconduct in office, incompetence, or gross insubordination by a preponderance of the evidence,” the judge wrote in his order. “No just cause for his suspension or termination exists, but a reprimand and reassignment are warranted.”
The judge said that Mr. Latson had “communicated well with students, teachers, and parents, except for the one parent.” He said the principal’s “choice of words and methods of trying to express that everyone at S.R.H.S. has the right to their individual beliefs, even if they differed from the required, approved curriculum were unfortunate.”
A spokeswoman for the school district did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the judge’s order on Friday. Mr. Latson could not be immediately reached for comment.
Mr. Latson oversaw Spanish River High for 11 years before he was reassigned in July 2019, after his email exchange with a parent set off an intense backlash in South Florida.
“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,” Mr. Latson wrote in one of the emails, which were obtained by The Palm Beach Post. He said he had to separate his personal views about the Holocaust from his job as a public school official.
“I do allow information about the Holocaust to be presented and allow students and parents to make decisions about it accordingly,” he wrote. “I do the same with information about slavery.”
His comments drew outrage among parents, school alumni and Jewish community groups in South Florida, which has a large Jewish population and one of the highest concentrations of Holocaust survivors in the world. Thousands of people also signed petitions calling for his termination, and the Anti-Defamation League called for his resignation.
After the uproar, school officials reassigned Mr. Latson to an unspecified position in the summer of 2019. District Superintendent Donald E. Fennoy II then recommended that the school board not renew his contract.
Judge Cohen also wrote in a recommendation on Thursday that the school board should rescind Mr. Latson’s suspension and termination, award him lost wages for the period beginning with his suspension without pay and transfer him to a position in the district.
Because of the judge’s order, the Palm Beach County school board will have to vote again on his reinstatement, according to The South Florida Sun Sentinel.