Northside Independent School District officials have denied allegations by U.S. Rep. Chip Roy that fifth graders at Leon Springs Elementary School were “subjected” to a critical race theory lesson earlier this year in possible violation of state law.

Roy (R-Austin) sent letters on March 17 and again on April 27 to NISD Superintendent Brian Woods, demanding that he explain why teachers “conducted a racial social experiment on fifth grade students without parental consent.” In the second letter, Roy questioned why Woods failed to respond to his initial inquiry and whether the lesson violated a state law that prohibits teaching that one race or sex is superior to another.

The lesson reportedly involved separating students by hair color, with dark-haired students labeled as “privileged” and light-haired students as “not as intelligent,” according to Roy’s letter that cited “reports” and parent complaints. Teachers then instructed the light-haired students to clean up after the dark-haired ones before watching clips from the Spike Lee documentary on the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, 4 Little Girls.

“San Antonio parents deserve answers as to why teachers at Leon Springs Elementary blatantly circumvented their authority to implement a radical discrimination ‘lesson’ and show graphic content to their fifth-grade children,” Roy wrote in his April letter. “It is imperative for you to address these concerns immediately. To be frank, any further delays in providing San Antonio parents with these important answers will signal a disregard for parental rights and concerns and further erode NISD’s credibility in the community.”

NISD officials said fifth-grade teachers at Leon Springs Elementary conducted a project-based lesson in January that included a study of historical fiction novels, including The Watsons Go to Birmingham — 1963. The novel tells the story of a Black family from Flint, Michigan, that travels to Birmingham to spend the summer with their grandmother, during which the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing occurs. The bombing, which killed four Black girls, galvanized the Civil Rights Movement.

“The intent of the lesson was for students to connect to real events of the civil rights movement and to gain understanding of what took place in that period of time and learn empathy about individual differences,” NISD spokesman Barry Perez said in a statement.

A spokesman for Roy said the congressman only received an undated letter via email on April 27 and that his team is evaluating what steps to take next based on Woods’ response. Leon Springs Elementary is just outside Roy’s 21st Congressional District.

In his response, Woods acknowledged that parts of the lesson, such as the segregation activity and clips from the documentary, were not age-appropriate or part of NISD’s curriculum. He also said that administrators addressed the lesson and concerns expressed by a family with campus staff.

Woods denied that the activity violated HB 3979, the 2021 state law that bans teaching the idea that “one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex,” or that people are “inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive” based on their race or sex.

“At no time were students subjected to the ideology that one race is superior to the other nor did the teachers infuse radical critical race theory-based ideology into the curriculum,” Woods wrote.

Perez said the lesson would not be repeated. Leon Springs staff received positive feedback from parents, but two families expressed concern to the principal about the lesson, and one family met with district staff.

“We consider this matter to be closed and are confident it was addressed appropriately,” he said.

Brooke Crum covered education for the San Antonio Report.