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LAUSD board to vote on ethnic studies course for graduation

Craig Clough | October 30, 2014

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Ethnic Studies Now logoAs support in the state for the idea is growing, the LA Unified school board next month is scheduled to vote on a resolution requiring an ethnic studies course for all district students as a high school graduation requirement.

The resolution was introduced by board member Bennett Kayser and would begin the process with a pilot program at five schools in each Educational Service Center during the 2015-16 school year.

The resolution has received the support of United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), the California Teachers Association (CTA), the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations and the Ethnic Studies Now Coalition.

“UTLA has always supported the idea that an engaging curriculum, with music, the arts, courses that help students explore their own identities, their own backgrounds, the backgrounds of other ethnicities, are critical,” UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl told the LA Unified board at its Oct. 14 meeting. “And so we are very happy [the ethnic studies resolution] is coming forward and we look forward to doing more support work around that.”

Members of Ethnic Studies Now are planning to hold a rally and press conference outside district headquarters before the Nov. 18 board meeting when the curriculum will be voted on. The group has started an online petition in support of the resolution and also took part in a summit on Oct.18 at Cal State Long Beach called the Campaign to Promote Ethnic Studies (CPES). The summit featured a speech by Kayser.

“Los Angeles is a really diverse place and it’s important that we understand each other. When we have had civil unrest in Los Angeles, it’s been — at least the way the media portrays it — one group against another group. As a result of ethnic studies in our curriculum, I’d like to think that would help bring an understanding so that we will have peace and prosperity through the city and through our schools,” Kayser told the crowd.

The board’s consideration of the resolution comes amid a movement statewide to require ethnic studies for graduation. Earlier this year, California Assemblyman Luis Alejo, a Salinas Democrat, introduced a bill that would require the state’s Department of Education to develop a task force to study the best way to implement an ethnic studies curriculum for high schools statewide.

While many districts offer ethnic studies curriculum, including LA Unified, El Rancho in Pico Rivera is currently the only one in the state that has an ethnic studies course as a high school graduation requirement. The El Rancho school board only voted this summer to make the curriculum required for the class of 2016 and beyond, according to the Los Angeles Times. The El Rancho School District was one of the hosts of the CPES summit and school officials were among the featured speakers.

While the ethic studies issue does not seem to have been met with large resistance in California, there are some opposed to the idea.

“Our nation was founded on principles of freedom and individual liberty and we are a meritorious society,” Jerry Mungai, president of the Conservative Forum of Silicon Valley, told NBC Bay Area while voicing the group’s opposition to ethnic studies courses. “We really don’t care really your ethnic background. We just want to know what can you do for us, for our society at large.”

Ethnic studies courses in Arizona and Texas have proved controversial. A Mexican American studies program at schools in Tucson ended in 2011 when Arizona outlawed it, and a movement to require Mexican American courses in Texas recently failed, the Times reported. Officials involved with the Ariziona and Texas courses also spoke at the CPES summit.

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