A coalition of seven local groups making up the Ethnic Studies Coalition—have made crucial gains this week, ensuring K-12 ethnic-studies curriculum is required for students, not only the whitest large city in the country, but for students in the entire state.
House Bill 2845, sponsored by Rep. Diego Hernandez (D- East Portland) and signed this week by Gov. Kate Brown, directs the Oregon Department of Education to convene advisory groups to develop ethnic-studies standards into existing statewide social-studies standards.
The Ethnic Studies Coalition is comprised of the Momentum Alliance, Oregon Student Association, Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, Oregon Education Association, Chalkboard Project, Coalition of Communities of Color and Parkrose School District.
Specifically, the bill would require the department to select 14 individuals, each from a diverse background, who will advise the state on where "it fails to recognize the histories, contributions and perspectives of ethnic minorities and social minorities" by June 15, 2018. Ethnic studies standards would be adopted by 2020, with implementation in schools set for 2021.
The bill would focus on racial and ethnic minorities, as well as Jewish and LGBTQ communities, different genders and people with disabilities.
"I [envision] a K-12 where my baby brother is able to pick up a history book and see more than slavery in those textbooks," Rex Putnam High School sophomore Raishel Convington testified before the JOINT Ways & Means Committee on Education in support of the bill. "To learn who their ancestors were and that they weren't just slaves, but the culture and communities they were taken from and the culture and communities they created to survive beyond slavery."
This isn't the first time the state has considered an ethnic studies requirement. In May 2016, Portland's school board unanimously voted to offer ethnic-studies classes in all high schools starting in 2018.
But the new law make Oregon the only U.S. state to have ethnic studies for K-12, although a few other states have laws in the works, including our neighbors.
In 2016, California passed a law that would create opportunities for all high school students to have ethnic studies curriculum by 2019. Washington has a bill to create and update ethnic studies curriculum for 7th-12th grade students, and the NAACP is urging Seattle to add ethnic studies curriculum to public schools.