Some facts, one would assume, are beyond question.
The earth really is round.
American astronauts did land on the moon.
Vaccines do prevent disease and epidemics.
Slavery was cruel.
Children were massacred in schools at Sandy Hook and Parkland.
The Holocaust did happen.
In each case, however, there are people to whom facts don't matter. Some of their absurdities, such as a flat earth, are simply silly. Others are malicious and dangerously harmful.
Holocaust denial is one of the evil ones. It's an "essential manifestation of anti-Semitism," according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups. The ancient pestilence is a growing menace again in the United States, as well as around the world.
To deny that 6 million people were murdered simply for being Jewish is to dehumanize the living, as well as the dead. It glosses over the ghastly crimes perpetrated by the Nazis, the poison spouted by their counterparts at Charlottesville and the targeting of Jews at synagogues in Pennsylvania, California and New Zealand.
In much the same way, those who romanticize the anti-bellum South and gloss over the savagery of slavery – spinning the Civil War as having been about anything else – are perpetrating the racism that rationalized and survived slavery. Whether such people are consciously racist or not is a distinction without a difference.
We can't say whether William Latson, the former principal of Spanish River High School, is an anti-Semite. His widely quoted remarks to a concerned parent don't prove that he personally denies the Holocaust. But he did give Holocaust denial an undeserved and indefensible respectability, a false equivalency with historical truth. His belated apology doesn't unring the bell.
Specifically, he refused to acknowledge that the Holocaust is "a factual historical event because I am not in a position to do so as a school district employee."
His duty as a school district employee was to teach that it is. That failure rightfully has cost him his principal's posting.
It remains in question why it took the Palm Beach School District more than a year to act and whether he should be fired, not merely reassigned. His new position, still unannounced, should have nothing to do with instruction.
The parent who raised the issue with him was concerned that Holocaust education wasn't a mandatory classroom study as Florida law requires.
Chapter 1003.42 makes clear the required instruction. It includes this:
"The history of the Holocaust (1933-1945), the systematic, planned annihilation of European Jews and other groups by Nazi Germany, a watershed event in the history of humanity, to be taught in a manner that leads to an investigation of human behavior, an understanding of the ramifications of prejudice, racism, and stereotyping, and an examination of what it means to be a responsible and respectful person, for the purposes of encouraging tolerance of diversity in a pluralistic society and for nurturing and protecting democratic values and institutions."
We don't see anything optional about that, or with the following paragraph that requires the teaching of African American history, including slavery and abolition.
In his e-mail exchange with the parent, Latson wrote, "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 ... not all parents want their students exposed so they will not be and I can't force that issue."
He claimed that an educator's duty is to be "politically neutral but support all groups at the school." That would be true with regard to Democrats vs. Republicans, but not for the malicious lie of Holocaust denial.
For a student or her parents to disbelieve that the Holocaust happened does not overcome the school's duty to teach that it did. To the contrary, it makes the lesson all the more important.
It's as wrong to let Holocaust deniers influence the curriculum, even indirectly, as it would be to make science classes optional to humor the Flat Earth Society.
Another question is whether Latson should be off the payroll, as demanded by Sen. Lauren Book of Broward, Rep. Randy Fine of Brevard and Florida Sen. Rick Scott.
Book and Fine say the principal is in violation of a new law that requires public schools and colleges to treat anti-Semitism "in an identical manner to discrimination motivated by race." Examples of anti-Semitism include accusing Jews or the State of Israel of "inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust."
There's nothing in the record to suggest Latson went that far, although catering to Holocaust deniers can easily be said to step on the line.
Book and Fine, who sponsored the legislation with others, posed a discomfiting question to the school district in the statement they issued Monday:
"Imagine if Principal Latson had said to an African-American parent that he could not and would not state that slavery is a factual, historical event. He would have been gone – one hundred% justified – by the end of the day."
Aside from being flat-out wrong, Latson's behavior was monumentally reckless. It would be hard to find many schools with as large a Jewish student population as Spanish River's, and they wouldn't be in the South.
It's not open and shut, though, that he should be fired. The new law is problematic. Indeed, we wrote earlier that it could inhibit and punish legitimate criticism of Israel's conduct vis a vis the Palestinians, and Latson could make an issue of that if he were to contest his dismissal.
The better course is to make a teaching moment of this incident – for Latson, in particular. There are an estimated 400 Holocaust survivors in the Boca Raton area. It's time for Latson to meet them.
(Editorials are the opinion of the Sun Sentinel Editorial Board and written by one of its members or a designee. The Editorial Board consists of Editorial Page Editor Rosemary O'Hara, Sergio Bustos, Steve Bousquet and Editor-in-Chief Julie Anderson.)