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'Appalled:' Holocaust Museum leaders condemn Southlake ISD call to offer 'opposing' Holocaust views

Pajamas with blue stripes, which were given to prisoners at concentration camps in Poland, are displayed at the Holocaust Museum.
Keren Carrión
/
KERA
“The district’s response illustrates the dangers of this new legislation mandating that historical facts be taught alongside an opposing view,” museum leaders said in a statement.

The school district superintendent is apologizing, saying "the comments made were in no way to convey that the Holocaust was anything less than a terrible event in history."

Statements of condemnation have been issued following a report that an administrator in a North Texas school district reportedly advised teachers to offer students opposing views of the Holocaust.

The Southlake Carroll ISD administrator’s comments, in a recording obtained by NBC News, were made in regards to a new state law that requires teachers to offer various perspectives on controversial issues.

“Make sure that if you have a book on the Holocaust, that you have one that has an opposing, that has other perspectives,” administrator Gina Peddy allegedly said during a meeting with teachers, according to the tape obtained by NBC.

Dallas holocaust museum leaders: ‘Appalled’

The Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum condemned the comments, saying it’s appalled to learn what the school administrator suggested.

President Mary Pat Higgins and Board Chair Mark Zilbermann issued a joint statement. They encouraged "all Texans to speak out against this requirement to present 'opposing views' to events and developments based in well-known historical fact.”

“The district’s response illustrates the dangers of this new legislation — mandating that historical facts be taught alongside an opposing view,” the statement said. “The challenge with legislation limiting educators’ ability to teach historical fact is the question of who decides if an issue is controversial or whether contending perspectives are worthy of instruction.”

“The Holocaust is one of the world’s most well-documented historical events. Our Holocaust survivors are a living testament to the accuracy of the history we teach at our museum – the deliberate, cruel, and systematic murder of 6 million Jews. Should the beliefs of Holocaust deniers be provided as ‘opposing views?’ When students learn about slavery, should they also be forced to read accounts that deny the horrors of slavery? The answer to these questions must be a resounding ‘no!’”

Author responds

Liza Wiemer is a former teacher and author of the young adult novel “The Assignment.” Inspired by a real-life incident, the book is about a group of high school seniors assigned to argue in favor of the Final Solution — the Nazi plan for the genocide of the Jewish people. Wiemer says slavery and the Holocaust are historical facts that shouldn't be debated.

“These were absolutely reprehensible inexcusable and they are not open for debate where we want our students to advocate for the other side,” she said. “Now the question comes in: What is the opposing side?"

Carroll ISD issues apology

Carroll ISD Superintendent Lane Ledbetter is apologizing for the remarks.

“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,” Ledbetter said in a statement. “Additionally, we recognize there are not two sides of the Holocaust.”

Ledbetter said as the district works to implement the new state law, “we also understand this bill does not require an opposing viewpoint on historical facts.”

More about HB 3979

The state law mentioned during the Southlake ISD meeting with teachers — House Bill 3979 — requires teachers who discuss current events or controversial issues to “strive to explore such issues from diverse and contending perspectives without giving deference to any one perspective.”

During a summer interview with KERA, Houston-area Rep. Steve Toth (R-The Woodlands) said he wrote HB 3979 to help children.

“We need to teach about the ills but you can’t blame this generation,” Toth said in August. “Kids are being scapegoated.”

Toth said the new law is aimed at teaching complex subjects like slavery and racism without making white children feel guilty.

“You can’t teach that one race is better than the other,” Toth said, describing what’s outlined in HB 3979. “You can't teach that one gender is better than the other. You can’t discriminate either… and say that one race or one gender is responsible for the ills of the past.”

Education association leaders: ‘Texas is not alone’

National Education Association President Becky Pringle and Texas State Teachers Association President Ovidia Molina issued a joint statement, saying what happened in Southlake Carroll ISD shows the Texas law is "meant to hinder educators’ ability to engage students’ curiosity and critical thinking."

"These intentionally confusing constraints on honest curriculum have no place in our public schools in Texas or elsewhere," they said.

Pringle and Molina say “Texas is not alone."

"Educators in other states are facing similar actions triggered by some elected officials who are stoking fears about what educators can or cannot teach in public schools as well as trying to silence or ban teachers from teaching students about our full history," their statement said. "This has resulted in educators being targeted, harassed, intimated, and disciplined simply for doing their jobs. Whitewashing the history of the Holocaust and slavery by stoking fears diminishes these injustices endured by generations and devalues our students and their families’ lived experiences."

"Only through grappling with hard truths can our students create a more equitable future.”

The NEA has produced a Know Your Rights guide to help educators.

KERA's Bill Zeeble contributed to this story.

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