Southlake school leader tells teachers to balance Holocaust books with ‘opposing’ views

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SOUTHLAKE, Texas — A top administrator with the Carroll Independent School District in Southlake advised teachers last week that if they have a book about the Holocaust in their classroom, they should also offer students access to a book from an “opposing” perspective, according to an audio recording obtained by NBC News.

Gina Peddy, the Carroll school district’s executive director of curriculum and instruction, made the comment Friday afternoon during a training session on which books teachers can have in classroom libraries. The training came four days after the Carroll school board, responding to a parent’s complaint, voted to reprimand a fourth grade teacher who had kept an anti-racism book in her classroom.

For more on this story, watch NBC’s “Nightly News with Lester Holt” tonight at 6:30 p.m. ET/5:30 p.m. CT.

A Carroll staff member secretly recorded the Friday training and shared the audio with NBC News.

“Just try to remember the concepts of [House Bill] 3979,” Peddy said in the recording, referring to a new Texas law that requires teachers to present multiple perspectives when discussing “widely debated and currently controversial” issues. “And make sure that if you have a book on the Holocaust,” Peddy continued, “that you have one that has an opposing, that has other perspectives.”

“How do you oppose the Holocaust?” one teacher said in response. 

“Believe me,” Peddy said. “That’s come up.”

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Another teacher wondered aloud if she would have to pull down “Number the Stars” by Lois Lowry, or other historical novels that tell the story of the Holocaust from the perspective of victims. It’s not clear if Peddy heard the question in the commotion or if she answered.

Peddy did not respond to messages requesting comment. In a written response to a question about Peddy’s remarks, Carroll spokeswoman Karen Fitzgerald said the district is trying to help teachers comply with the new state law and an updated version that will go into effect in December, Texas Senate Bill 3.

“Our district recognizes that all Texas teachers are in a precarious position with the latest legal requirements,” Fitzgerald wrote, noting that the district’s interpretation of the new Texas law requires teachers to provide balanced perspectives not just during classroom instruction, but in the books that are available to students in class during free time. “Our purpose is to support our teachers in ensuring they have all of the professional development, resources and materials needed. Our district has not and will not mandate books be removed nor will we mandate that classroom libraries be unavailable.”

Fitzgerald said that teachers who are unsure about a specific book “should visit with their campus principal, campus team and curriculum coordinators about appropriate next steps.”

Clay Robison, a spokesman for the Texas State Teachers Association, a union representing educators, said there’s nothing in the new Texas law explicitly dealing with classroom libraries. Robison said the book guidelines at Carroll, a suburban school district near Fort Worth, are an “overreaction” and a “misinterpretation” of the law. Three other Texas education policy experts agreed.

“We find it reprehensible for an educator to require a Holocaust denier to get equal treatment with the facts of history,” Robison said. “That’s absurd. It’s worse than absurd. And this law does not require it.”

State Sen. Bryan Hughes, an East Texas Republican who wrote Senate Bill 3, denied that the law requires teachers to provide opposing views on what he called matters of “good and evil” or to get rid of books that offer only one perspective on the Holocaust.

“That’s not what the bill says,” Hughes said in an interview Wednesday when asked about the Carroll book guidelines. “I’m glad we can have this discussion to help elucidate what the bill says, because that’s not what the bill says.”

A Carroll ISD teacher hung caution tape in front of the books in a classroom after the new guidelines were circulated.Obtained by NBC News

Six Carroll teachers — including four who were in the room to hear Peddy’s remarks — spoke to NBC News on the condition of anonymity, worried that they would be punished for discussing their concerns publicly. They said district leaders have sent mixed messages about which books are appropriate in classrooms and what actions they should be taking.

“Teachers are literally afraid that we’re going to be punished for having books in our classes,” an elementary school teacher said. “There are no children’s books that show the ‘opposing perspective’ of the Holocaust or the ‘opposing perspective’ of slavery. Are we supposed to get rid of all of the books on those subjects?”

The debate in Southlake over which books should be allowed in schools is part of a broader national movement led by parents opposed to lessons on racism, history and LGBTQ issues that some conservatives have falsely branded as critical race theory. A group of Southlake parents has been fighting for more than a year to block new diversity and inclusion programs at Carroll, one of the top-ranked school districts in Texas.

Late last year, one of those parents complained when her daughter brought home a copy of “This Book Is Anti-Racist” by Tiffany Jewell from her fourth grade teacher’s class library. The mother also complained about how the teacher responded to her concerns. 

Carroll administrators investigated and decided against disciplining the teacher. But last week, on Oct. 4, the Carroll school board voted 3-2 to overturn the district’s decision and formally reprimanded the teacher, setting off unease among Carroll teachers who said they fear the board won’t protect them if a parent complains about a book in their class.

Teachers grew more concerned last Thursday, Oct. 7, when Carroll administrators sent an email directing them to close their classroom libraries “until they can be vetted by the teacher.” Another email sent to teachers that day included a rubric that asked them to grade books based on whether they provide multiple perspectives and to set aside any that present singular, dominant narratives “in such a way that it … may be considered offensive.”

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