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LA Schools Will Now Require Passing An Ethnic Studies Course to Graduate

Thomas Jefferson High School in Los Angeles

Thomas Jefferson High School in Los Angeles

Beginning with the Class of 2019, students in the Los Angeles Unified School District will now be required to take an ethnic studies course in order to graduate, according to the results of Tuesday’s 6-1 vote by the district school board.

The idea was proposed by the Ethnic Studies Now coalition and calls for students to take a mandatory semester-long full-credit course from one of the LAUSD-approved subjects. The courses range from Mexican American Studies to African American History, Literature of Minorities in America, and Asian Studies.

The passage of such a measure in the nation’s second largest school district will likely move progressive educators across the country to start pushing for such a requirement in their districts. It was a struggle that overtook college campuses decades ago as educators argued that students weren’t fully prepared to exist in a diverse world if they didn’t learn about other cultures. Now the movement has dropped down to the secondary school level.

After the LAUSD board voted on Tuesday night, hundreds of students reportedly cheered outside of the district’s headquarters, shouting “We won!”

The board’s motion was introduced by board members Bennett Kayser, George McKenna and Steve Zimmer and calls for a gradual phasing in of the requirement. This will begin in some schools in the 2015-2016 school year. Though the board has not yet been presented with the program’s proposed budget, district officials estimate the new requirement will cost $3.9 million to implement for 140,00 high school students.

Currently, LAUSD offers courses of this type at 19 of 94 high schools, according to California Department of Education data cited on the Ethnic Studies Now website.

Jose Lara, a history teacher at Santee High School who serves as the coordinator of Ethnic Studies Now, said that his committee has the support of about 50 community organizations in Southern California and from professors all around the nation.

“Studies have shown that curriculum at L.A. Unified and throughout the nation is Euro-centric,” said Lara. “So many voices are forgotten, voices of Latinos, Asian Americans, African Americans, are forgotten in our history books.”

Lara added that this new requirement would not increase the amount of credits students needed to graduate.

The resolution makes LAUSD the second district in the state to require ethnic studies for high school graduation—the other is the much smaller El Rancho Unified schools in Pico Rivera.

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