Texas school administrator’s comments on Holocaust spark public outcry

“It’s almost like a joke, what would an opposing view of the Holocaust be?” a teacher from the Carroll Independent School District in Southlake, Texas, where the comment was made, told CNN’s Ed Lavandera. The teacher did not want to be identified for fear of reprisals.

Carroll ISD superintendent Lane Ledbetter issued an apology on Thursday after a leaked recording of the training session in which the comment was made. The audio, first reported by NBC News, was secretly recorded by a staff member and obtained by CNN.

On it, Gina Peddy, executive director of program and instruction for the district, can be heard using the Holocaust as an example of a historical event that would require the presentation of opposing viewpoints. At the time, she was advising elementary teachers on how to follow the district’s new guidelines for checking books after teachers expressed frustration and confusion over the new law impacting the curriculum.

The law, one of several legislative efforts to ban critical race theory in American classrooms, was signed by Governor Greg Abbott and took effect September 1. It states that a teacher cannot be compelled to discuss “a particular or widely debated current event”. and currently controversial issue of public policy or social affairs.” If a teacher engages in such discussion, the teacher is required “to explore these issues from diverse and opposing perspectives without giving deference to any one perspective specifically”.

Critics argue that the law is not only confusing for teachers, but also impacts teachers’ ability to responsibly educate American children about historical events.

“It was the anti-Semitic and systematic murder of 6 million Jews and there is no legitimate ‘opposed’ view to it,” said Joel Schwitzer, regional director of the American Jewish Committee, Dallas.

“When I listened to the audio, I heard an administrator desperately trying to figure out how to operate in this environment with no clear direction as to what can be considered a controversial topic,” he added. “This law will have a chilling effect on schools, administrators and teachers and that’s what we see here.”

“There are not two sides to the Holocaust”

The Carroll ISD teacher who spoke to CNN said fear, ignorance and racism are driving the drive to control how certain historical events are taught in classrooms.

“We are not asked to have opposing views on colonization, we are not asked to have opposing views on Columbus Day or Thanksgiving,” the teacher said.

“We’re only asked to have opposing views on certain things and that’s where the problem lies, really.”

When asked what things teachers are asked to have opposing views on, the teacher replied, “The civil rights movement, the Holocaust, the civil war, slavery, the rights of women.”

The debate even put the lives of educators at risk, the teacher added.

“Teachers are actively receiving threats if they speak out at this stage, of destroying their lives, of coming to get their license, of attacking their families,” the teacher said. “We’re starting to feel like children of divorce, like these two parties are fighting and we’re becoming collateral damage.”

Clay Robison, spokesman for the Texas State Teachers Association, said he was angry but not surprised by the comments made during the Carroll ISD training session.

He noted that while the law does not specifically address books in teachers’ classrooms or specifically require a teacher to give equal weight to perspectives that deny the Holocaust, he said the law had enough ambiguity to “encourage that kind of reaction”.

Some parents also worry about the impact of HB3979 on their children’s education and communities.

“It’s very sad, the situation we find ourselves in right now,” Russell Maryland, a Southlake resident and father of three who attended schools in the city, told Lavandera.

“The world is changing. The city is changing. And unfortunately, you have a group of people in this city who are afraid of change. And what do the fearful do? Instill fear.”

Maryland, a former Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman, has spent the past three years working with other parents to develop a diversity program for schools in the city.

“It’s happening, it’s happening here in our community as a warning to everyone,” Maryland said. “If you don’t get up now, then this ignorance is coming to a town near you.”

As for views “opposed” to the Holocaust, Anti-Defamation League Vice President Oren Segal told CNN New Day that these are outright anti-Semitism.

“The idea that opposing views on the Holocaust would somehow seem legitimate to anyone is perhaps a sign of the times,” Segal said. “That’s anti-Semitism, that’s Holocaust denial, and that’s what drives extremists. There aren’t two sides to this issue, there aren’t two sides to the Holocaust.”

CNN’s Ashley Killough and Ed Lavandera contributed to this report.

Martha K. Merrill