Dec 02, 2021

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A high-ranking school official told teachers in Southlake, Texas that if they had books in their school about the history of the Holocaust, they should make sure that they have other books that “other perspectives.”

On Friday, Gina Peddy, the Carroll school district’s executive director of curriculum and instruction, was leading a training session on which books teachers can have in classroom libraries. The session came amid an uproar over new regulations concerning curriculums teaching about race and racism and which books should be permitted into the classrooms and libraries. A staff member secretly recorded the session. Peddy discussed House Bill 3979, signed into law in June as a means of combatting the teaching of critical race theory in public schools. The law requires teachers to present multiple perspectives when discussing “widely debated and currently controversial” issues.

“We are in the middle of a political mess,” Peddy said. “And you are in the middle of a political mess. And so we just have to do the best that we can. And so we’re gonna go, and we’re gonna do. And you’re gonna do what you do best. And that is to teach the kids.”

“I think we’re all just terrified,” a teacher responded.

“I think you are terrified,” Peddy responded. “And I wish I could take that away. I do. I can’t. I can’t do that.”

“You are professionals, Peddy said. “We hired you as professionals. We trust you with our children. So if you think the book is ok, then let’s go with it. And whatever happens, we will fight it together. We will.”

“There are a lot of districts that are in the exact same spot we’re in. And no one knows how to navigate these waters. I mean, no one.”

Several of the teachers complained that they still did not understand the new guidelines for the books.

As you go through, just try to remember the concepts of the [bill] 3979, Peddy said, referring to House Bill 3979, signed into law in June as a means of combatting the teaching of critical race theory in public schools. The law 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 asked.

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

Another teacher asked about the book “Number the Stars”,  an award-winning work of historical fiction by the American author Lois Lowry about the escape of a Jewish family, the Rosens, from Copenhagen, Denmark, during World War II. The book is told from the perspective of the 10-year old girl.

“I do know that you feel like it’s putting you at risk,” Peddy told teachers on the recording. “I do know that. But I also know that we’re going to do what’s best for our kids. And we’re going to stand behind you on this.”

After the session had ended, a group of teachers gathered in a hallway to discuss what they had just heard.

“I am offended as hell by somebody who says I should have an opposing view to the Holocaust in my library,” a teacher said, her voice quavering.

Another replied: “They don’t understand what they have done. And they are going to lose incredible teachers, myself potentially being with them.”

NBC News received a response from Carroll District spokeswoman Karen Fitzgerald, who said the district is trying to help teachers comply with the new state law and Senate Bill 3, an updated version that will go into effect in December.

“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.”

State Sen. Bryan Hughes, an East Texas Republican who wrote Senate Bill 3 explained that the bill would not require teaching Holocaust denial.

“That’s not what the bill says,” Hughes said in an interview with NBC News on 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.”

State Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, wrote on Twitter that “Southlake just got it wrong.”

“School administrators should know the difference between factual historical events and fiction,” Hancock wrote. “No legislation is suggesting the action this administrator is promoting.”

Clay Robison, a spokesman for the Texas State Teachers Association, stated that the law would not grant a platform to legitimize Holocaust denial.

“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.”

Several teachers spoke to NBC News anonymously, expressing concerns that the new law put them in an unclear position.

“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?”