Texas schools told to balance Holocaust books with "opposing" views 3 months ago

Texas schools told to balance Holocaust books with "opposing" views

“How do you oppose the Holocaust?”

An administrator for a school district in Texas told teachers that books about the Holocaust should be balanced with “opposing” viewpoints.

An audio recording obtained by NBC News features Carroll Independent School District's executive director of curriculum and instruction, Gina Peddy, telling teachers that if they keep books about the Holocaust in their classroom, they should also offer books from an “opposing” perspective.

The comment was made last Friday during a training session on which books can be featured in classroom libraries in the district, four days after the school board reprimanded a teacher who had kept an anti-racism book in her classroom following a parent's complaint.

“Just try to remember the concepts of [House Bill] 3979,” Peddy said in the recording, in reference to a new Texas law requiring teachers to present multiple viewpoints when discussing what it calls “widely debated and currently controversial” issues. The law has sometimes been used to curb children's access to anti-racism resources and books on the history of slavery.

“And make sure that if you have a book on the Holocaust, you have one that has an opposing, that has other perspectives,” Peddy continued.

“How do you oppose the Holocaust?” one teacher replied.

“Believe me, that’s come up,” Peddy responded.

Another teacher asked if she would have to rid her classroom of Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, or other novels surrounding the victims' experience of the Holocaust.

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It is unclear whether the administrator heard the question or answered.

Six teachers from the district, four of whom were in the room when Peddy made the remarks, spoke to NBC News about the mixed messages they received regarding what books they can and can't feature 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,” one 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?”

Clay Robison, a spokesman for the Texas State Teachers Association, a teacher's union, said Carroll district's book guidelines were an “overreaction” and “misinterpretation” of the law.

“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.”

When asked about Peddy's guidelines, East Texas Republican State Senator Bryan Hughes said the law does not require teachers to provide opposing positions on matters of “good and evil” or to ban books that only offer the victims' perspective on the Holocaust.

“That’s not what the bill says,” he said. “I’m glad we can have this discussion to help elucidate what the bill says, because that’s not what the bill says.”

A spokeswoman for the district, Karen Fitzgerald, said in a statement: “Our district recognises that all Texas teachers are in a precarious position with the latest legal requirements. 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.”

She added that teachers who are unsure about whether they can keep a specific book in their classroom “should visit with their campus principal, campus team and curriculum coordinators about appropriate next steps.”

The debate in the district highlights a broader national movement happening across the States led by parents opposed to lessons and books that deal with racism, colonial history and LGBTQ issues. A group of parents at Carroll has been trying to block new diversity and inclusion programs from being implemented in the district for over a year.

Late last year, one of those parents made a complaint when her daughter came home with a copy of This Book Is Anti-Racist by Tiffany Jewell, which she got from her classroom library.

Carroll administrators investigated and initially decided against disciplining the child's teacher, but on October 4 of this year, the school board voted 3-2 to overturn the district’s decision and reprimand the teacher.

Teachers at the district now say they're afraid the board will fail to protect them against parental complaints regarding classroom books.