Santa Barbara School District to Add Ethnic Studies

To Be a Graduation Requirement by 2019

The board room filled with advocates for physical education, music programs, and Ethnic Studies at Tuesday night's Santa Barbara Unified School District meeting.

Blanca Garcia

“You’re speaking to the choir,” said Dr. Jacqueline Reid, president of the Santa Barbara Unified School Board. She was addressing the overwhelming number of supporters spilling out of the meeting room wearing “Ethnic Studies Now!” T-shirts at Tuesday night’s meeting. Fifty-three requests for public comment were submitted regarding the Ethnic Studies discussion item on the agenda, the last item scheduled — many waited over three hours to give public comment.

Among the teachers, professors, counselors, students, parents, and general supporters of Ethnic Studies, Alloy Zarate, a student at Dos Pueblos High School, spoke on the concept of window and mirrors. Windows allow us to learn and understand the history of others, Zarate said, mirrors reflect our communities and histories. Both are important, but Zarate made the case that the district provides too many windows for minority students and not enough mirrors. Ethnic Studies would be a much needed mirror for minority students and a just as necessary window for white students in the district.

The executive director of Just Communities, Jarrod Schwartz, also spoke, commenting that his group has been working with the district on educational equity and cultural proficiency. The district asks, how do we do equity? said Schwartz, “This is how.” Students and teachers consistently ask for culturally relevant content, he said. “Teachers are ready for it, students need it, and many people in the community can help you implement it correctly.”

After waiting through a three-hour meeting, Ethnic Studies supporters — still filling many of the available seats — had a chance to make their presentation and speak to the school board.
Blanca Garcia

Following public comment, Shawn Carey, assistant superintendent educational services for seconday, presented a plan for the Incorporation of Ethnic Studies in the school district. The High School Graduation Requirement Committee recommended making Ethnic Studies a requirement for the class of 2023. Currently, California Assembly Bill 2772 is pending, and if approved, it would add Ethnic Studies as a graduation requirement for all public high schools in the state for the class of 2024. Neighboring districts Oxnard and Los Angeles Unified have already jumped the gun and are currently implementing Ethnic Studies requirements.

Boardmember Kate Parker is behind the movement but worries about miscommunication and concerned parents. The Ethnic Studies requirement will fall into existing requirements in Social Studies or English; it will not be an additional requirement. Parker worries parents may think the district will stop teaching U.S. history or American Government. Those courses, of course, will continue to be offered. “It would be helpful to get that message out quickly,” said Parker.

The High School Graduation Requirement Committee is continuing to flesh out the implementation details for making Ethnic Studies a high school requirement. They plan to have it on the school board’s agenda as an action item by November. Before closing the discussion, Boardmember Ismael Paredes Ulloa addressed the public. “Keep us accountable,” he said, “I don’t want it to fall off after a couple of years.”


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