Photo: 'xiquinhosilva,' Creative Commons license 2.0

A Florida high school principal is in hot water for repeatedly telling a parent last year that while his school offers plenty of lessons about the Holocaust, his professional obligation to be "politically neutral" meant he wasn't allowed to come right out and say the Holocaust was an actual historical event, because not everyone believes it was real. Certainly wouldn't want to take a side on basic reality if some people reject it, after all. The principal has since apologized, but the parent is still plenty pissed off for some reason. Seems a pretty silly discussion when all the evidence suggests we've been literally living inside a computer simulation since sometime in 2016.

The Palm Beach Post reports the ontological dispute arose in April 2018 when a mother of a student at Spanish River Community High School in Boca Raton emailed Principal William Latson to ask how the Holocaust was being taught at her kid's school. She just wanted to know that the Nazi attempt to exterminate European Jews and other non-Aryans was "a priority" at the school. Latson's reply was anything but reassuring; while it did offer details on the school's offerings, it also included a very weird disclaimer:

As far as holocaust studies and the curriculum it can be dealt with in a variety of ways. The curriculum is to be introduced but not forced upon individuals as we all have the same rights but not all the same beliefs. Each year we do a holocaust assembly and we target the 10th graders so every year that group will get a days work with the holocaust. We advertise it to the 10th grade parents as their are some who do not want their children to participate and we have to allow them the ability to decline. By doing it in that grade level, every students will get the opportunity before they graduate [Emphasis added -- Dok]

Latson added that the school district's curriculum had been developed in consultation with a local temple and its rabbi, which is nice, but what the actual fuck?

The parent -- for some crazy reason, she didn't want to make her name public -- wrote back to ask Latson for clarification, and no, she didn't nitpick that extraneous "their." Was he saying the Holocaust is a mere a matter of opinion, like, say, evolution, or the existence of "Canada"? She was careful to say, "The Holocaust is a factual, historical event [...] It is not a right or a belief." His reply was even weirder: Sure, I think it was a real event, but as an educator it's not my role to weigh in on controversial matters like reality.

The clarification is that not everyone believes the Holocaust happened and you have your thoughts but we are a public school and not all of our parents have the same beliefs so they will react differently, my thoughts or beliefs have nothing to do with this because I am a public servant. I have the role to be politically neutral but support all groups in the school. 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. One must understand that in a public school setting the school can't take a position but provide information and allow parents to work with their students on what they want their children to understand.

Erm. Couple things here. Historical reality isn't a matter of belief. You can argue about why and even how things happened -- there's still legitimate debate over whether Hitler was set on extermination from the get-go, or whether that policy evolved over time -- but the extermination camps and mobile killing units definitely existed. We're also not sure why Latson seems so eager to accommodate parents who don't want their kids learning this bit of history. (Maybe some parents worried their kids might be unable to handle the ugly reality, but even so, yeesh.)

And then Latson dug in MORE:

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. I do allow information about the Holocaust to be presented and allow students and parents to make decisions about It accordingly. I do the same with information about slavery, I don't take a position but allow for the Information to be presented and parents to be parents and educate their students accordingly.

Again, this is absurd. The mother said she had no doubt Latson accepts the reality of the Holocaust, but worried he was trying to avoid confronting parents who deny that reality, and why the hell should such beliefs be accommodated? The mom did manage to get school official to agree to small changes to the school's curriculum, at least. Now, instead of reading excerpts from Elie Wiesel's Night, all tenth graders will read the whole book, for instance. But other reforms haven't happened yet. School administrators agreed to expand the annual Holocaust education assembly from just tenth grade to all grades, for instance, but the assemblies haven't taken place yet due to scheduling conflicts in the current academic year. Deputy Schools Superintendent Keith Oswald told the Post they'd begin next year.

As for Latson, he was "counseled" about the inappropriateness of his email, although there was no formal disciplinary action taken. Latson has apologized for not more clearly taking a position on the side of reality.

"I regret that the verbiage that I used when responding to an email message from a parent, one year ago, did not accurately reflect my professional and personal commitment to educating all students about the atrocities of the Holocaust," Latson wrote.

"It is critical that, as a society, we hold dear the memory of the victims and hold fast to our commitment to counter anti-Semitism," he continued. He pointed out that Spanish River High's educational offerings on the Holocaust exceed the state's requirements.

Latson also took four days this summer to visit the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, and said the visit was "a poignant lesson and reminder of one of the most horrific events in human history." So it looks like maybe he's learned something about how we talk about reality.

The mother who initially complained isn't all that happy, however. In May, she

met with Latson and two regional superintendents. The mother spoke of her frustrations about the assemblies, about how the school ensures Holocaust studies are taught in the classroom.

She said that she no longer had faith in Latson's leadership, according to minutes from the meeting obtained by The Post.

Although it is not reflected in the minutes, the mother wrote to district officials afterward to say that in the meeting Latson had once more said that the Holocaust is a "personal belief" and that he cannot take a stance on it as a district employee.

This time around, district officials are denying that Latson made such a statement in the meeting, although the chair of the Palm Beach School District clarified the district's commitment to teaching the facts of the Holocaust. That statement did not apparently address the more local dispute about reality between the mother and Latson.

Until that's resolved, Yr Wonkette is calling for a moratorium on all movie adaptations of works by Philip K. Dick, lest public trust in the fabric of space-time be further eroded.

[Palm Beach Post / Photo: 'xiquinhosilva,' Creative Commons license 2.0]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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