WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A Florida high school principal who was fired last year after telling a student's mother "not everyone believes the Holocaust happened" was rehired after a recommendation by an administrative law judge.
The Palm Beach County school board voted 4-3 on Wednesday to reinstate former Spanish River High School principal William Latson and give him $152,000 in back pay, the Palm Beach Post reported.
"If we rehire Dr. Latson, it is going be a stain on this school district that will never go away," said Karen Brill, the board's only Jewish member.
Board member Chuck Shaw, who voted to fire Latson last year, said he was voting to rehire him to avoid a costly court battle, the Post reported. He said it was unfortunate Latson's comments had damaged the public schools' image, but he blamed the situation primarily on the news media, which he said "took over this entire conversation before the superintendent had an opportunity to even begin to address this."
The board made it clear it was reluctant to reinstate Latson, saying the judge's recommended order gave them little leeway. Refusal to rehire him could lead to a lawsuit and a costly court battle. The district has already spent more than $106,000 defending Latson's termination in administrative court.
Board members said district officials assured them that Latson would not work on a school campus, but would be placed in the district's assessment department as a "principal on assignment."
Superintendent Donald Fennoy had recommended earlier that the board take the action.
The board voted 5-2 last last October to fire Latson on grounds of "ethical misconduct" and "failure to carry out job responsibilities." The official justification for his termination was failure to return messages from school district officials in the days after his comments made international news.
Latson appealed the termination in state administrative court. A judge sided with him in August, ruling that while his actions merited punishment, they were not serious enough to establish "just cause" for termination.
Latson had initially been reassigned from the Boca Raton school to a district office job because of the outcry over his email to a mother who inquired whether the school's students study the Holocaust.
Latson, who had been at Spanish River for eight years, replied to the mother that as an educator his job was to be "politically neutral."
"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," he wrote.
The mother, thinking Latson had expressed himself poorly, wrote back, saying, "The Holocaust is a factual, historical event. It is not a right or belief."
Latson replied, "Not everyone believes the Holocaust happened." He added, "You have your thoughts, but we are a public school and not all of our parents have the same beliefs."
The Germans under Nazi rule killed 6 million Jews during the Holocaust. The Nazis also exterminated another 5 million people during World War II, including Slavs; Roma, also known as Gypsies; gays and people with disabilities.