“We have never had the number of email messages and speakers for any issue in the past,” said board member Karen Brill.
By Josh Plank, World Israel News
Due to an overwhelming level of public feedback, the school board of Palm Beach County, Florida, was forced to delay a vote Wednesday night to reverse the rehiring of William Latson, a high school principal who was fired last year after telling a parent that he couldn’t say the Holocaust was a factual event.
Board chair Frank Barbieri laid out the unusual dilemma that the board found itself in Wednesday night.
Barbieri said that the board had received almost 1,300 recorded messages, all of which must be heard before a vote can take place.
Approximately 900 recorded messages were still awaiting processing at the time of the meeting. The 362 messages that had been processed amounted to 7 hours and 21 minutes of required listening.
“Tonight’s meeting is really unprecedented,” said board member Karen Brill.
“We have never had the number of email messages and speakers for any issue in the past,” she said.
After consulting with counsel, the board decided it had no choice but to continue the meeting to November 2 to allow board members to hear all public comments.
Several members of the public came to the meeting and were allowed to address the board in person.
Senator Kevin Rader told the board, “There’s a stain, not only in this county, in this state, but it’s nationally and internationally. And we need to fix it.”
“I hope that when this comes back up for a revote that you will do the thing that is obvious, which is not to allow [people] who believe that the Holocaust is not a factual event to be principals in our schools or be educators in our district. It’s a very simple understanding,” said Rader.
Rabbi Barry Silver of Congregation L’Dor Va-Dor said, “Holocaust denial is anti-Semitism unmasked, and it is a superspreader of hate and prejudice and arrogance and ignorance.”
Rabbi Dovid Vigler of Chabad of Palm Beach Gardens said, “To the members of the school board, the world is watching us here tonight. On behalf of the Jewish community, I urge you to set an example and to vote to cancel the employment of Mr. Latson.”
Menachem Warshawski said, “I am a survivor of Auschwitz. I didn’t think that in my 90s I’ll have to educate an educator.”
Angela Van Der Pluym said, “To deny or to say you cannot confirm a historical fact puts these Jewish communities in danger, not just here in West Palm Beach but across the world. World Jewry is watching you right now.”
Richard Cravatts, member of the Florida board of the Zionist Organization of America, said his organization opposes Latson’s rehiring because it “sends students and their families a wrong and dangerous message that Holocaust denial and other forms of anti-Semitism will be excused and tolerated.”
Accusations of Jewish ‘power’ and ‘racism’
Some members of the black community questioned whether Latson was being treated fairly.
Chuck Ridley, chairman of Unify Palm Beach County, said, “We find Mr. Latson’s comments to be disturbing. However, we are aware of many instances in which white principals made choices that are disturbing and in some cases criminal and they were treated with greater respect, care, and great favor.”
“The reason that you are doing this has very little to do with anti-Semitism and much more to do with the power of the group that is doing the advocacy,” Ridley said.
Charmain Postel said, “Are we now backtracking on an earlier decision to bring an educator back because certain politicians wish to disqualify him?”
Steve White said, “As I observe this unwarranted persecution of Mr. Latson, a black man, I wonder if the actions of those who are persecuting him are motivated by racism and if the individuals are racists.”
Maxwell Adelstein, associate director of StandWithUs Southeast, disagreed with these assertions.
“What you’re hearing from the Jewish community isn’t about power dynamics. It’s not about politics. It’s about pain. It’s about anguish. It’s about intergenerational trauma that we still experience to this very day,” Adelstein said.
If the board votes not to rescind the rehiring of Latson on November 2, they are set to vote on an addendum that would transfer Latson from his position as principal of Spanish River High to “Principal on Special Assignment, Transportation Services.”
In an April 2018 email, Latson told a parent, “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.”