District looks to implement an ethnic studies course next school year


Emily McNally

Alta Vista High School was named as a 2022 Model Continuation High School.

The Mountain View–Los Altos School District looks to implement Ethnic Studies — the interdisciplinary study of minority groups in America — as an elective class open to all grade levels next year in the fall of 2022. It will transition into a mandatory freshman history class in the fall of 2023.

The push for Ethnic Studies has been an ongoing conversation between the Board and the MVLA District for almost six years. Due to the events in the past year surrounding the Black Lives Matter Movement and the violence against the Asian American and Pacific Islanders community, an ethnic studies course has gained further support from the community.

The course will have students examine populations of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds and the role that they played in American history, with an emphasis on the experiences and contributions of people of color. This class will allow students to not only learn about minority groups that are overlooked in typical history classes, but to also reflect on how their identities have been shaped by their own experiences, according to Mountain View High School history teacher Julie Yick.

While the exact curriculum is still in its developing stages, MVLA teachers plan to propose a finalized curriculum to the Board by May 2022. This curriculum will consist of various topics, including race, ethnicity, gender and systems of power, among many other topics. Currently, MVLA staff are in discussion with Mission High School of the San Francisco Unified District about their Ethnic Studies curriculum, which includes units on the origins of Ethnic Studies, the history of education in America for minority groups, past and present social movements, immigration and the use of media to influence individual choices. The curriculum will be consistent across the District.

Currently, freshmen are required to take World Studies; however, with the addition of an Ethnic Studies course, World Studies will become a sophomore level class. This means that sophomore students will have the option of choosing between World Studies, AP Human Geography and AP European History to fulfill their required world history credits; junior and senior year options will stay the same.

“We really see this as an opportunity to build something awesome, to build a really important and impactful course that will benefit all of our students,” MVHS Social Studies Department Coordinator Nathan Bowen said. “And now we’re finally getting to that point and taking some real steps.”

The basic framework of the course was presented to the MVLA Board of Trustees on Monday, September 27; while the Board didn’t vote to approve the course, it expressed its support for the curriculum as it continues to evolve.

“We received many emails asking us to officially take a vote on this, and a vote isn’t required at this moment — we’re already behind this program, we believe in this, we want to do this,” Board of Trustees President Fiona Walter said.

While the Board had a positive response to the initial proposal, there were a few concerns raised by Board Member Dr. Phil Faillace. He referenced the California Education Code to point out the awareness needed when teaching the class, especially when controversial ideas are covered in a classroom setting. Per the code, educators are required to create a balanced presentation of the material that doesn’t bias students in one direction or the other.

Faillace also brought up the question of how the class will be graded.

“It is one thing to teach students how to not be racist and to participate in those types of discussions, but it is another thing to pressure students into participating in social activist activities,” Faillace said. “I think we have to be very careful in how we navigate that space and having a more detailed curriculum in the spring will help to answer some of those questions.”

However, according to Los Altos High School history teacher Derek Miyahara, the course won’t require students to be involved in activities that they aren’t comfortable with. The class itself will be very focused on having students explore their own identities and how their identities relate to that of their peers, LAHS history teacher Marta Heiken said.

Overall, there is much support for this class from both the Board and the community heading into the next school year as it begins to be implemented into the MVLA history curriculum.

“We have a lot of people here [at the Board meeting] who have been fighting for Ethnic Studies for a long time, and I would like to once again say how important it is that [the Board] commits to a ninth grade implementation,” Ethnic Studies advocate Kiyoshi Taylor LAHS ‘15 said. “We want to make sure that the community is involved, and I know that especially the people in this crowd will be in close contact with teachers, staff and [the Board] to help make this a really community driven course.”