LAUSD green lights ethnic study courses

The students acknowledged later that they understood before the meeting that the LAUSD Administration had already decided to pursue the development of ethnic studies, but said they wanted their voices to be heard. Courtesy photo

Clearly anticipating a request from Los Alamitos High School students to add ethnic studies to the Los Alamitos Unified School District curriculum, the board listened intently, quickly thanked the students and proceeded to outline the process of making it happen.

The students acknowledged later that they understood before the meeting that the LAUSD Administration had already decided to pursue the development of ethnic studies, but said they wanted their voices to be heard.

In fact, Dr. Andrew Pulver said in his introduction that he wants to honor students from transitional kindergarten through 12th grade with ethnic studies. Pulver also announced they will be hiring a part time administrator of color, a teacher on special assignment (TOSA) whose main role will be to coordinate the difficult task of creating ethnic studies courses.

Nikki O’Campo, a Los Al junior, told the board Tuesday that “now is the time for ethnic studies to be implemented into the graduation requirements.” Further, she said “we demand the hiring of teachers…for professionally equipped ethnic studies.”

Moreover, the student activist said the only required class in the current curriculum that is “expected to present a comprehensive perspective of global cultures is world history. She said “nowhere in that history can students of color be seen or find contributions to be proud of.”

The only required course in world history at Los Alamitos, she said, is a “western centric version of history.”

“It is critical that students graduate with an understanding of cultures and ethnicities different from their own in order to encourage understanding,” said O’Campo. Doing so, she said, will encourage tolerance and allow students to appreciate each other “for who they are.”   

“We demand this change this change as students deserve to be exposed to holistic cultured and a realistic view of history in the world,” said O’Campo.

She also thanked the board for listening.

Emy Chen, an 8th grader, was perhaps more blunt. She said when studying current history courses, “I am absent” from it.  Chen said she was proud of her Asian American heritage and thinks the struggles and contributions to American progress. “Knowing my history with racism in America against Asian Americans is particularly important today.”

Chen said Americans calling the coronavirus “Kung Flu” and the “Chinese virus” has “an impact on how students treat each other.” Racism persists, she suggested, when students do not have the chance to deeply study the full history of our country and the contribution the diverse people have made.

“I should not have to figure this out on my own,” she said, suggesting she “should be learning about it in the classroom.”

Dr. Cathery Yeh, a member of the Chapman University faculty, is also a Los Al mom. Yeh told the board “I’m here to walk alongside you” and offered her assistance in any way to the board.

At Chapman, Yeh said she is developing a curriculum for an ethnic studies minor degree and therefore shared textbooks with the board along with other information.

“I’ve been doing this work for about a year and I’m here to offer support,” she said, adding that she was very encouraged to hear Dr. Pulver say the program will span from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Meg Cutuli, board president, thanked the students and Dr. Yeh for coming, saying it “is always good to hear from students.”

Ondrea Reed, Assistant Superintendent for Educational Services, explained the complex process of having a new course or curricula into the district’s system. She explained the difference in creating an elective course and a course that is required to complete for graduation.

Reed noted the two district policies that any new course would have to comply with and said there are two “pathways” for a new course. She said at first glance, it may appear that creating a new course will take a very long time, but in reality, she said, “they can happen quickly.”

She said any ethnic studies course will likely be included in the English or Social Studies curriculum.

The process will involve the vetting of courses, textbooks, and other materials, she noted, including the achievement of buy-in from parents, teachers, administrators, and other stakeholders.

Reed also mentioned pending state legislation, introduced in 2016, that could also have an impact if passed. Basically, she said there are many fluid dynamics involved in the creation of a new course like ethnic studies.

That being said, Reed said the new hire suggested by Dr. Pulver could accelerate the process and having public support from teachers and parents will help as well.

The Assistant Superintendent said the district was monitoring other area school districts, three of which had already installed an ethnic studies elective course, and several more that are also looking at alternatives. Reed also explained the differences between elective course offerings and those required for graduation.

“It’s a very structured process,” she said, noting that it is likely that a course could be ready for the 2021-22 school year, but timing is difficult to accurately predict as to what the course will look like or when it can be approved for inclusion.

Pulver said the district has long been working on several areas of staffing and instruction to improve overall diversity and inclusion, yet there is now new “urgency” that should become a factor.

The Superintendent received direction from the board to allow his administration to pursue two options for ethnic studies, including one path for an elective course and another that could become a requirement for graduation.

Asked after the meeting about the action taken by the board, O’Campo said “It was really encouraging,” noting that the board seemed to “be moving very fast” to include ethnic studies in the system.

LAUSD green lights ethnic study courses