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Education

Broward superintendent candidate accused of covering up for principal who refused to call the Holocaust a fact

Carl Juste Broward schools photo.jpeg
Carl Juste
/
Miami Herald
Cypress Bay High School students enter the campus in Weston on the first day of school in August.

One of the top candidates to be the next superintendent of Broward County Public Schools is accused of covering up for a principal who refused to say the Holocaust is a historical fact. While the principal’s statements were first reported in 2019, a whistleblower lawsuit stemming from the incident is ongoing.

Keith Oswald is the chief of equity and wellness for Palm Beach County's school district and one of the three semifinalists to be the next school superintendent for Broward County.

Oswald was named in a lawsuit filed last month by a former district HR investigator that alleges he knew about the statements by Spanish River Community High School former principal William Latson, but failed to report them.

Oswald is not a party in the lawsuit filed by former employee Robert Pinkos against the Palm Beach County school board, but the legal complaint lays out specific allegations about Oswald’s handling of the situation.

In 2019, The Palm Beach Post reported that in 2018 Latson refused to say that the Holocaust is a historical fact during an email exchange with a parent in the district.

Pinkos, who was assigned to investigate the incident, is seeking $30,000 in damages and claims he faced retaliation from district leaders after he raised concerns about what he saw as the limited scope of the investigation. He ultimately recused himself from the probe.

In the lawsuit, Pinkos alleges that Oswald and other district administrators knew about Latson’s statements for months but did not report them, which Pinkos contends violates school district policy, which requires staff to “report improper conduct”.

“[Pinkos] questioned Mr. Oswald as to why neither he nor anyone else reported the misconduct at the time they became aware. Mr. Oswald lamented there were a lot of things he wished he had done differently,” Pinkos’ attorneys wrote in a court filing. “Mr. Oswald stated he tried to work with Dr. Latson but when Dr. Latson didn’t communicate with him in early July 2019, the situation reached the point where he (Oswald) could no longer support Dr. Latson.”

Pinkos also alleges that when he questioned Oswald, the then-deputy superintendent claimed there was an exemption under Florida law that would allow schools to not teach the Holocaust.

“Mr. Oswald continued by explaining that the study of the Holocaust was a state mandate but there was also an “opt out” provision in state statute that not many people knew about,” the legal filing continues. “Mr. Oswald stated that although he knew of the Holocaust comments for several months, it was incumbent upon the South Regional Superintendent, Dr. Ian Saltzman, to have notified HR of the wrongdoing.”

According to the Florida Commissioner of Education’s Task Force on Holocaust Education, the state’s law “requires all school districts to incorporate lessons on the Holocaust as part of public-school instruction in grade K-12."

In a written statement to WLRN on Friday, Oswald said that as superintendent, he would “not hire or retain anyone who doesn’t believe the Holocaust happened."

“The principal was terminated. An external review conducted by a third party Inspector General determined claims of wrongdoing was unfounded," Oswald’s written statement reads. "As to a recent complaint filed by a former employee, the District looks forward to correcting misstatements that are presented in the lawsuit in court."

At the time of publication, Oswald had not responded to a request for a copy of the external review or more details on what was misstated in the lawsuit.

Pinkos, through his attorney, declined an interview request from WLRN on Friday, saying he simply wants his lawsuit to move forward and doesn’t want to hurt anyone involved.

The firm hired to handle Broward County's superintendent search, Ray and Associates, brought up the pending litigation in a school board meeting this week, referencing the the former HR employee's complaint and the statements by the former principal. But the information did not prompt discussion among board members.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the board voted to advance four semifinalists candidates to the interview phase:

  • Vickie Cartwright, the interim superintendent of BCPS
  • Michael Gaal, a former president of education techology company Beable and former deputy chancellor of DC Public Schools
  • Peter Licata, a regional superintendent in the School District of Palm Beach County
  • Keith Oswald, chief of equity and wellness in Palm Beach County schools

Licata has since withdrawn himself from consideration. In a message to WLRN, Licata declined to say why he made the decision, saying he didn’t want to distract from the process.
The board is scheduled to redo this week’s meeting, after the South Florida Sun-Sentinel questioned whether board members’ voting method in selecting semifinalist candidates may have violated state Sunshine laws.

Board members will redo the meeting on Tuesday. The first round of interviews is slated for Wednesday.