Southlake was already in the news for its school district’s long-running battle over what students should learn about racism in the United States. Then, last week, there was the story about a school administrator telling teachers that any classroom library with books about the Holocaust should include “opposing” views to comply with HB 3979, a new state law meant to keep so-called “critical race theory” out of schools.
School board meetings across North Texas have been especially combative scenes this year, replete with showdowns over mask requirements and various culture war skirmishes. But even by those standards, Monday night’s meeting of the Southlake Carroll ISD school board was tense.
Superintendent Lane Ledbetter apologized last week, saying there “are not two sides of the Holocaust.” Jewish residents who spoke at Monday’s meeting wanted more than an apology, and a former student described being bullied when he attended school in Carroll ISD more than 20 years ago.
“I received everything from jokes about my nose to gas chambers, all while studying for my bar mitzvah,” Jake Berman said.
Most of the speakers seemed to agree that the fault here doesn’t lie with the school administrator whose recorded comments about teaching the Holocaust set off the most recent controversy. So, if we all agree that there are not two sides to the Holocaust—and I really hope we all agree—then who or what’s to blame for a school administrator implying as much?
In her recorded comments to teachers, the school administrator makes clear she’s trying to follow HB 3979. State legislators who supported the law said they didn’t share her interpretation of what it requires. “School administrators should know the difference between factual historical events and fiction,” tweeted state Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills. “Southlake just got it wrong. No legislations is suggesting the action this administrator is promoting.”
Be that as it may, Carroll ISD is hardly alone in its flailing effort to interpret HB 3979. The state law is confusing educators across the state.
Other speakers at Monday night’s meeting blamed school board members opposed to a diversity plan that was floated earlier this year.
Southlake Mayor John Huffman has singled out the national reporters with NBC News who have turned the drama in Southlake into a podcast series and documentary. NBC News has been closely following the school district’s contortions, and broke the story last week about the administrator’s comments.
“As you all know, two out-of-town journalists have become seemingly obsessed with using Southlake to illustrate the national debate on racism and diversity,” Huffman said in a recent Facebook post. Southlake is “feeling the pressure of the last few years of media attacks,” he says. There are a number of questions that a school district regularly ranked as one of the best in the state has to grapple with, the mayor writes.
“Unfortunately, to date, our school district has struggled to deal with these questions under the harsh spotlight of the national news media,” Huffman says. “To be fair, there has never been a more challenging time for school administrators who are also dealing with the tail end of the pandemic, new mandates, and a shortage of teachers and support staff. But these issues are providing ammunition for national journalists to promote their previous work.”
However you feel about what’s happening in Southlake, Huffman has cannily identified a punching bag that everyone loves to hit. If anything can unite a divided community, it’s this. Always blame the media.