As the state of California debates whether or not to make ethnic studies a requirement for high school graduation, a discussion about the matter began at the local level during a Burbank Unified school board meeting Thursday.
A plea from a district parent during the public-comment portion of the meeting regarding diversity elicited responses from Supt. Matt Hill and a few board members about a possible change to educational standards.
Burbank resident Laura Jimenez, who has one child attending Monterey High and another at Jordan Middle School, said it was time for the board to acknowledge the city’s demographics.
“We are entrusting our children to the school’s administration and teachers not only for academic success, but to complement our job as parents in growing strong, confident and healthy children,” Jimenez said.
“This job is made harder when our children of color do not see themselves in their studies. When you don’t see people like yourself, the message is you’re invisible. As well, students who only learn about or see people who look like them will not be prepared to navigate an increasingly diverse society,” she added.
Jimenez’s comments come as California Assembly Bill 2772, introduced Feb. 16, moves through the Assembly Committee on Appropriations after having received approval from the Assembly Education Committee.
Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, appropriations committee chair, summed up AB 2772 as a bill that “requires all students to complete a semester-long social studies or English language-arts course in ethnic studies to graduate from high school, based on state-adopted model curriculum, commencing in the 2023-24 school year.”
Currently, there is no requirement for an ethnic-studies course prior to graduation.
State officials did, though, pass AB 2016 in September 2016, which encouraged districts to offer an ethnic-studies course and instructed the state board of education to “adopt, modify or revise a model curriculum in ethnic studies.”
While the bill’s fate is still up in the air, its enactment, if passed, is still years away.
Local board member Armond Aghakhanian said he didn’t feel a need for a delay.
“I think Burbank is ready for ethnic studies, not only for our children, but also for the parents to understand this is what we need,” he said. “It’s not only about demographics … It’s a plus. It’s an advantage.”
According to kidsdata.org, a health website supported by the Lucile Packard Foundation, 45.2% of Burbank Unified students identify as white, while 38.4% are Latino, 5.2% are Asian, 3.9% are Filipino and 2.7% are black as of 2016.
Board member Steve Ferguson said work was getting underway, but the issue was a little more complex than just simply adding a class.
“Dr. Aghakhanian and I are in the initial discussions of bringing an ethnic studies curriculum for requirement to the board for its consideration,” Ferguson said. “So we’ll be talking with [assistant supt. Sharon] Cuseo, trying to see how viable that is. I think it’s very viable. Making it a graduation requirement — let’s see what that looks like. I think that’s important.”
One person eager to help was Hill, who in February completed his Loyola Marymount doctoral dissertation titled, “Social Justice and Superintendency: A Study of Eight Los Angeles County Superintendents.”
“The board will have a discussion about ethnic studies and the policy-making aspect of that,” Hill said. “I give my full support of my team and myself to engage in these topics. I will take the guidance from the board on the policy side. As far as implementation on the administrative side, anything that I can do, I’m available. I want to have these conversations.”
Board member Steve Frintner echoed Ferguson’s enthusiasm — and caution — and asked for patience for a process that is still in its infancy.
“We as a board consider this to be a very key topic for our district,” Frintner said. “I’m glad to hear that we are already in the process of looking at the ethnic-studies program. As [Steve] Ferguson mentioned there, when we talk about making things graduation requirements, there’s a lot of thought that goes into it. I’m not opposed to that idea, but we’ve got to see how we’d make it work.”