Parents and community members spoke out in support of Southlake educators caught up in recent controversies that made national headlines in recent weeks.
Meanwhile, Carroll school board president Michelle Moore told the crowd during Monday’s meeting that trustees support the district’s staff, noting that more is at issue than comments about the Holocaust and an anti-racist book.
Last week, NBC News reported on a recording of a Southlake administrator speaking about a new Texas law that sets guidelines for how educators can teach controversial subjects. The legislation, House Bill 3979, requires teachers to strive to include diverse perspectives on controversial issues.
“Just try to remember the concepts of [House Bill] 3979,” Gina Peddy, a Carroll administrator, was heard saying in the recording obtained by NBC News. “And make sure that if you have a book on the Holocaust, that you have one that has an opposing, that has other perspectives.”
A teacher responded: “How do you oppose the Holocaust?”
The new law — similar to ones passed in other conservative states — comes as conservative pundits and politicians have conflated critical race theory with schools’ diversity and inclusion efforts.
Moore noted that the new law has caused confusion for teachers about what it all means and the best method for following the new restrictions. The district must work together to figure out how best to apply the laws enacted by the Legislature, she added.
“Our message to our curriculum and instructional staff and teachers is that we support you and understand the challenges that lie ahead of you,” Moore said.
Several speakers condemned the suggestion that there’s an opposing side of the Holocaust that should be taught, calling for the district to do better.
Jake Berman, a former Southlake student, said he was bullied throughout his time in the district as a Jewish student, with most of the remarks being anti-Semitic.
“I received everything from jokes about my nose to gas chambers, all while studying for my bar mitzvah from a Holocaust survivor as my primary tutor,” he said.
Berman said that the administrator’s comments were a misstep but added that he was glad to see Superintendent Lane Ledbetter correctly state that there are not two sides to the Holocaust.
He continued by addressing HB 3979 as “a ridiculous and stupid law” and said there are many events the country wants to whitewash or ignore, including slavery and Jim Crow-era laws.
Other speakers cited Peddy’s helpful impact on the district, while still disagreeing with her comments.
Dana Smith, who has three children in the district, said she does not condone Peddy’s example but believes in forgiveness. She described Peddy as truly having the best interest of every teacher and student.
“Without her leadership, this district would not have made it through the last 18 months during the pandemic,” Smith said. “I wholeheartedly believe that.”
Others speakers came out to support fourth grade teacher Rickie Farah, whom the board reprimanded two weeks ago in a 3-2 vote after parents complained to the district about a book they said their child brought home from her class last year.
The book — This Book is Anti-Racist: 20 Lessons on How to Wake Up, Take Action, and Do the Work by Tiffany Jewell — was described by Kirkus Reviews last year as a “guidebook for taking action against racism.”
Moore acknowledged the incident during Monday’s meeting, saying she wanted to provide clarity on the matter.
“The grievance was regarding a personnel matter and not about a book in the classroom,” she said.
Several parents and fellow teachers detailed how Farah went the extra mile for students.
Kim Franks, who has two children in the district, said Farah taught both of her children and the experience was nothing short of fantastic. The teacher would write each student a note before STAAR tests to boost their confidence and help them relax, Franks added.
“She came to support my kids in their efforts to raise money for hurricane relief victims and traveled 45 minutes two ways to come after her own engagement party with her fiance, just to contribute,” Franks said. “She is selfless.”
Before the reprimand vote Oct. 4, trustee Sheri Mills issued a warning to teachers in the district, saying they should watch this vote and know they have a right to be worried by whoever votes yes.
But Ashley McCurry, who has three children in the district, said she focused her attention on Moore and Mills, the two board members who voted against the reprimand.
McCurry said the two trustees have brought national attention to a district known for its excellence. She added that the incident has been spun into a book censoring when in reality it was a personnel matter.
“The two of you continue to smile as you divide our community,” she said. “Do you know our community has not had such division since the two of you have sat on this board?”
A few spoke out against the teacher, suggesting that she was among educators who bullied students to not take home the anti-racist book.
The board did not vote on any agenda item related to the two incidents. The next board meeting will be Nov. 1.
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