Texas school official says classrooms with books on Holocaust must offer ‘opposing’ views

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<span>Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo</span>
Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

A Texas school district official told educators if they kept books about the Holocaust in their classrooms, they would have to also offer “opposing” viewpoints in order to comply with a new state law.

In an audio clip obtained by NBC News, Gina Peddy, the executive director of curriculum and instruction for Carroll independent school district in Southlake, offered the guidance to teachers during a training on which books teachers can keep in classroom libraries.

“We are in the middle of a political mess, and you are in the middle of a political mess, and so we just have to do the best we can,” Peddy said.

The training came after the Carroll school board had reprimanded a fourth-grade teacher after parents complained about a book on anti-racism in her class. And it followed the passage of a new Texas law that requires teachers who discuss “widely debated and currently controversial issues of public policy or social affairs” to examine the issues from diverse viewpoints without giving “deference to any one perspective”.

At the training, Peddy advised teachers to remember the requirements of the new law, according to the audio. “And make sure that if you have a book on the Holocaust,” she said, “that you have one that has an opposing, that has other perspectives,” which prompted a teacher to ask what would be the “opposing” view of the Holocaust.

The district superintendent, Dr Lane Ledbetter, did not immediately respond to the Guardian’s request for comment, but offered a “sincere apology” in a statement shared on Facebook.

“During the conversations with teachers during last week’s meeting, the comments made were in no way to convey that the Holocaust was anything less than a terrible event in history. Additionally, we recognize there are not two sides of the Holocaust,” Ledbetter wrote.

A district spokesperson told NBC News it was trying to help teachers comply with the legislation as educators were in “a precarious position with the latest legal requirements”. State education experts told NBC News that the bill does not deal with classroom libraries.

Ledbetter said in the statement that the district understands the law does not require opposing viewpoints on historical facts.

The Texas governor, Greg Abbott, has said that law, HB 3979, is an effort to abolish critical race theory in schools. The theory is an academic discipline that examines the ways in which racism operates in US laws and society, but it is not taught in US secondary schools.

Related: ‘These are the facts’: Black educators silenced from teaching America’s racist past

Regardless, school board meetings across the US have seen a wave of protests about critical race theory in recent months and lawmakers in states around the country have proposed laws that would ban the teaching of critical race theory and topics such as the New York Times’s 1619 Project.

Twenty-two states had passed or were considering laws to ban or restrict conversations about race and racism in public school classrooms as of August. In July, Iowa passed a law banning educators from teaching content that could lead to “discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of that individual’s race or sex”. Florida passed a law earlier this year banning critical race theory, which it says claims “racism is not merely the product of prejudice, but that racism is embedded in American society and its legal systems in order to uphold the supremacy of white persons”.

Propaganda about critical race theory, as well as anger over Covid restrictions, has rocked school board meetings nationwide, prompting the National School Boards Association to ask Joe Biden for federal assistance in response to threats and violence against school board members and education officials.