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Parents, teachers and students in Orange County continue debating over whether or not school districts should teach U.S. history through perspectives from people of color through ethnic studies courses.
It’s an issue some school districts around the county have been debating: how U.S. history is being taught and what’s being left out.
The debate over an already approved ethnic studies elective class sparked again in public comments at Los Alamitos Unified School District Board meeting on Tuesday, when board members were presented with potential teaching materials for the course.
A Los Alamitos High School student said his history textbook barely mentioned Cesar Chavez, while Dolores Huerta and the Tulsa Race Massacre received zero mention at all.
“We are a culturally diverse community. In order for us to understand each other and where we’ve come from, we must be given the opportunity to learn about each other’s stories, experiences and shared history,” the student said during public comment.
Many students in the district spoke in favor of the ethnic studies course and some echoed similar comments about their textbooks.
Some students of color called out the racism they experienced at the district in their comments.
Others were concerned with critical race theory, which they say negatively depicts the country and creates a victim mentality.
But some academics have said the course paints a more complete picture of history and that critical race theory has been mischaracterized.
Some parents took issue with social justice standards created by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which were previously presented to the board and said they are not against the elective class.
“We have heard and seen many stories of schools ruling out this curriculum that focuses on hating your own race, blaming others for your problems and hating America today for problems in the past,” one parent said. “We should never start putting a premium on the melanin content of people’s skin.”
Superintendent Andrew Pulver said the standards are guidelines for teachers addressing difficult conversations happening in classrooms.
“They can support administrators, depending upon the ways that they take a look at them, in making schools more inclusive, more equitable, more safe and hopefully can have areas where they can reduce acts of bullying, prejudice and minimizing conflict,” he said.
Pulver addressed some of the claims circulating around their ethnic studies elective course they approved earlier this year.
“(Ethnic Studies) is an interdisciplinary study of race, ethnicity, and indigenous people with an emphasis on experiences of people of color in the United States,” Pulver explained. “It deals with often overlooked contributions made by people of color to many areas of government, politics, the arts, medicine and economics.”
The deputy superintendent Ondrea Reed introduced the textbook and all supplemental material the district hopes to use in their ethnic studies elective class.
Some of the materials include a textbook from different ethnic perspectives, an article about media stereotypes of Latinos, a video on Little Manilla in California and details of the Indies under Spanish colonialism.
The textbook and materials will be on preview for over 30 days online and at the district office.
Across California, there is a huge reckoning with how U.S. history is being taught in classrooms and what is being left out.
There is a petition circulating online calling for the Fullerton Joint Union High School District to create an ethnic studies high school graduation requirement.
Regardless of if the district takes action or not, an ethnic studies course could become a high school graduation requirement in California, under a proposed state assembly bill.
The Santa Ana Unified School District was the first in the county to create such a requirement following police brutality protests globally last year. In 2015, the district’s board first voted to introduce ethnic studies to the curriculum.
A handful of local districts already offer this class as an elective, while others are looking to add it to their curriculums by creating a new course and potentially spending money on training for teachers and textbooks.
Los Alamitos Unified School District’s Board of Education is set to vote on the textbook and supplemental materials for the ethnic studies elective class at their June 1 meeting.
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him @firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.