Monday, September 25, 2023

Principal Mistake at Spanish River High, the Coco Effect, and BRRH Insurance Snag

You knew that William Latson was done—as he should have been done.

Spanish River High School was in the news all over the world on Monday—and not in a good way. A day earlier, The Palm Beach Post had reported Principal William Latson’s refusal to acknowledge that the Holocaust happened. The bizarre comments came in an exchange of emails last year with a student’s mother.

Before 10 a.m. Monday, the story was the fourth most-read item on the Washington Post website. It also was the second most-read item on the Jerusalem Post website. It was on the website of the Israeli newspaper Haartez. Spanish River High School directly—and thus Boca Raton indirectly—was not looking good.

Mayor Scott Singer noted on Facebook that his children are the great-grandchildren of a Holocaust survivor. He called it “stunning” that “there even was a pause” in Latson acknowledging the “undeniable facts of the Holocaust.”

By Monday afternoon, Latson had been “reassigned” to an unspecified position within the school district because he had become a “distraction” at Spanish River. A news release said the district “is, and always has been, working diligently to be a leader in mandatory Holocaust education for students in grades K-12. The district’s curriculum is based on historical fact.”

Ironically, the exchange did not begin as a confrontation. The mother—who does not want to reveal her name, in order to protect her child’s identity—simply wanted to know how Spanish River complies with the state law that requires schools to teach about the Holocaust.

Though Spanish River offers a “variety of activities,” Latson wrote, the lessons are “not forced upon individuals as we all have the same rights but not all the same beliefs.” The mother, rightly, then pressed for an explanation.

“Not everyone believes the Holocaust happened,” Latson wrote, compounding his mistake. “And you have your thoughts, but we are a public school and not all of our parents have the same beliefs.”

Latson said his role is “to be politically neutral but support all groups in the school.” Shades of President Donald Trump referring to “very fine people on both sides” of a white supremacist march in Virginia.

Latson capped off the exchange by saying, “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.” When The Post’s Andrew Marra asked Latson about his comments, the principal responded with a tepid apology for his “verbiage.”

The release said Latson “made a grave error in judgment in the verbiage he wrote in an email stating, ‘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.’ In addition to being offensive, the principal’s statement is not supported by either the School District Administration or the School Board.”

Also ironically, the mother doesn’t appear to believe that Latson is a Holocaust denier. According to the story, her greater concern was that Latson’s attitude kept Spanish River from following the state law. As a result, the school was enabling Holocaust deniers.

According to the story, the mother—accompanied by the mother of another Spanish River student—met with Palm Beach County School District administrators and came away unsatisfied. That would explain why the mother finally went to The Post. What the district had tried to keep relatively secret has gone public.

Latson’s actions would have been problematic at any school. They were more problematic at Spanish River, which has one of the largest Jewish student populations of any high school in Palm Beach County.

Still, in a time when truth itself is under siege, Latson’s indulgence of Holocaust denial should have bothered everyone. It also should bother the public that, as Marra reported, Latson received no discipline. That would make it very hard now to fire him outright. Termination of an employee requires a recommendation from the superintendent and school board approval.

Some might blame the mother for pushing on an issue. My read is that Latson himself or his superiors could have headed this off long before it went worldwide. At least it was a good day for truth.

Coco (and Delray!) wins the day

Cori “Coco” Gauff in 2017 (Photo by Aaron Bristol)

Contrast the bad publicity out of Spanish River High School with the wonderful in which Cori “Coco” Gauff represented Delray Beach at Wimbledon.

The 15-year-old lost on Monday to Simona Halep in straight sets after surviving the tournament’s first week to reach the round of 16. After winning three matches, Gauff faced the seventh-ranked player in the world, who has won a major tournament and reached the finals of three others. The outcome was not a surprise.

Even in defeat, however, Gauff made herself, her family and her hometown look good. She will continue to “dream big.” The country saw Gauff’s fans at the Paradise Sports Lounge on Atlantic Avenue and Military Trail, which Gauff’s father owns. The country heard about the long histories in Delray Beach of her parents, Corey Gauff and Candi Odom Gauff.

By all reports, Cori Gauff’s remarkable—for her age— presence and composure stem from that family connection. Some athletes make it big and never look back. You get the sense that however Cori Gauff’s tennis career turns out, Delray Beach will remain a big part of who she is.

The BRRH UnitedHealth kerfuffle

Boca Raton Regional Hospital

For Boca Raton Regional Hospital, the timing could not have been worse.

Last Monday, the hospital became part of Baptist Health South Florida. A day earlier, Boca Regional’s contract with UnitedHealth Group expired. The inability to agree on an extension disrupted services for roughly 17,000 patients. When the news broke, that coincidence made it seem as though Boca Regional under new management had become hostile to longtime patients.

First, let’s acknowledge the stress that those United policyholders are under. Then, let’s acknowledge that such a crisis could hit anyone who has health care coverage through a private insurer. That is the reality for most Americans, and it’s why some Democratic presidential candidates support so-called “Medicare For All.”

And let’s acknowledge that breakdowns in contract talks between an insurer and a hospital happen. This breakdown, however, doesn’t mean that there won’t be a contract. Boca Regional and United have a mutual interest in continuing the relationship. The issue is the terms.

Boca Regional may be non-profit, but that doesn’t remove the profit motive. UnitedHealth Group is the largest private health insurer in the country, with almost 50 million members and roughly $200 billion in revenue. Its stock is trading roughly 40 points under its 52-week high.

For the record, the Boca Regional-Baptist Health partnership did not affect the decision on United. Boca Regional made the decision several weeks ago. As a Baptist Health spokeswoman noted, the company legally could not be involved with any Boca Regional decisions until July 1.

“Our intention,” the spokeswoman said, “is to help Boca Raton Regional Hospital reach an agreement with (UnitedHealth Group) as soon as possible to minimize any inconvenience to affected patients.” A Boca Regional spokesman expressed the same sentiment.

The Baptist spokeswoman said the hospital will try to “address continuity of care for patients.” She added, “Baptist Health accepts (United) at our other facilities and we are working hard to bring that same level of coverage to our families and friends in Boca Raton.”

I’ll have more when events warrant.

Resort sales price?

Boca Raton Resort & Club

Everyone agrees that MSD Capital Partners has bought the Boca Raton Resort & Club. Not everyone agrees on the selling price.

The Palm Beach Post reported that it was $461.6 million, citing “deeds made public.” Then Jessica Del Vecchio, Boca Raton’s economic development director, said in her newsletter that the price was $875 million. Del Vecchio cited an article by a website called the Commercial Observer. That article said the price for the land and buildings was $589.6 million, but that MSD also paid $285.3 million for Premier Club, which takes revenue from the club’s 3,600 members who pay for privileges.

Most recently, the Palm Beach County Property Appraiser’s Office recorded the sale price for the resort’s 34.4 acres as $430.4 million. The appraiser’s website lists the buyer as Boca Owner LLC, a state entity of New York-based MSD Partners.

By any of those measures, the sale is the largest real estate deal in Palm Beach County history.

Restaurant Row

Crocker Partners portrait of Midtown

While Crocker Partners continues to sue Boca Raton over Midtown, the company keeps working with the city on its proposal for a restaurant cluster near Town Center Mall.

The company plans its Restaurant Row on the property of the office building across Butts Road from the mall, at the intersection of Town Center Road. The restaurants would face east, toward the office tower. A city spokeswoman said the project would be scheduled for a planning and zoning board hearing after it goes through the standard compliance review.

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Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz, a native of Hartford, Connecticut, has been a South Florida journalist since 1974. He worked for The Miami Herald until 1976 and for The Palm Beach Post from 1976 until 2014, where he served as managing editor and editorial page editor. Since 2014, he has written a politics blog, commentaries and other articles for Boca magazine. His writing has earned first-place awards from the Florida Magazine Association and the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. Randy has lived in Boca Raton with his wife, Shelley Huff-Schultz, since 1985. His son, daughter-in-law and their three children also live in Boca Raton.

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