Last week Melissa Moreno, speaking as a parent and community member, was watching the DJUSD discussion of the LCAP (Local Control and Accountability Plan). She became concerned when a slide placed “equity constituent focus” on African American and Native American students, but not on Hispanic and Latino students.
In a follow up email she told the Vanguard, “I did not intend to make a public comment of any sort. But, I was compelled to make it after noticing the slide that indicated ‘equity constituent’ focused on ‘African American and Native American.’ It seemed to overlook Chicana/o Latina/o students as an equity constituent and seem to assumed that all are EL students.”
She added, “I was surprised that there was no mention of Ethnic Studies in the LCAP plan, once again.”
LCAP in part attempts to deal with and remedy the achievement gap. Among the goals cited by the local district are the need for educators to help close the achievement gap, as well as have classrooms and school communities create what they call “safe and inclusive environments.”
For Melissa Moreno, a key component of this is creating an Ethnic Studies program – that is something that goes beyond the course offerings currently offered by the district.
As Associate Superintendent Rody Boonchouy pointed out on Thursday, the district does have an offering of Race and Social Justice that students can take in the place of English 11.
Mr. Boonchouy noted the evolution of the Race and Social Justice class over the last 10 to 15 years has been that the growth of the class has taken it into a majority status as opposed to other US History courses.
He said, “It’s an interesting lesson for us on the trajectory of the introduction of a new course.”
As some have suggested, the RSJ course also covered required material for US History but with the added focus on issues of race and social justice during that era.
Still, one course does not cover the needs of students of color who often find themselves behind their white and Asian peers in tests that measure the pervasive achievement gap.
Professor Moreno told the Vanguard, “There had been interest and conversations since 2017 among several parents and community members about Ethnic Studies.”
Melissa Moreno said, “At the meeting we discussed Ethnic Studies and how it could address all the aspects of the graduate profile. We were told that that district would consider it when preparing their LCAP annual plan.”
At the time they told her, “They did not consider it in last year’s LCAP plan” and she said that on Thursday “at the board meeting I noticed that the district did not consider it again.”
On Thursday, Rody Boonchuouy explained, “During that meeting we had a request around ethnic studies, the value of it, the reason why its important.”
He said, “Our values are deeply aligned.” But he said, “The challenge is trying to figure out the logistics of introducing a new course of study and what that would look like in making sure that (we) do it in a sustainable manner… particularly with enrollment the way it is.”
He asked, “How would we introduce? At the expense of what? And the process by which we would get there.”
Board President Bob Poppenga perhaps offered a way forward, “Ethnic studies should be embedded into our existing courses, and not have to stand alone.”
For Melissa Moreno that seemed like a good approach, and she “appreciated some of the questions of the Trustees. I especially valued the DJUSD President’s question about whether Ethnic Studies (should) be integrated throughout the curriculum.”
She added, “Indeed, this is what some schools have done; they have it in English, History/SS, Art, and have even created Ethnic Studies math courses called ‘Am I an Ethnic Statistic’ and ‘Mathematics and Social Justice.’ In the case of WJUSD, they have six different courses.”
In a separate conversation with the Vanguard, she noted that Woodland was well ahead of where Davis is on ethnic studies offerings, as is the state of California.
Of particular note is the current proposal of AB 331, introduced in January by Assemblymember Jose Medina. AB 331 would mandate Ethnic Studies as a graduation requirement in all California high schools.
The proposal follows up on AB 2772, vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown, which would have created a pilot program for select school districts to require Ethnic Studies.
“Knowledge of our history plays a critical role in shaping who we become. When I was growing up, the history of those who look like me was not represented in the classroom. As a former Ethnic Studies teacher, I saw firsthand how much more engaged my students were when they saw themselves reflected in the coursework,” Assemblymember Medina said in a statement in January.
He added, “Ethnic Studies provide students an opportunity to learn about histories outside of the Euro-centric teachings most prominent in our schools. At a time when the national climate drives divisiveness and fear of otherness, Ethnic Studies can play a critical role in increasing awareness and understanding.”
Melissa Moreno told the Vanguard that there are over 30 school districts in California that have either passed Ethnic Studies resolutions and/or made Ethnic Studies a graduation requirement. That includes Woodland Joint Unified.
In addition to AB 331, there is also AB 1460 which would make Ethnic Studies a required course at the CSU campuses.
She believes, “LCAP school funding can be used to support Ethnic Studies, and we have several Ethnic Studies trained parents and folks in town.”
But, despite claims of support and valued alignment from both board and administration, Melissa Moreno was also troubled by things she heard on Thursday by board members.
She said, “Some of the responses to the Trustees questions however seem troubling. They referred to (1) difficulties of cutting something for Ethnic Studies, (2) that the existing Race and Social Justice course sections already addresses the Ethnic Studies need, and (3) that promises have been made to the Native students/families.”
She argued: “All these three responses can be unpacked and have solutions that other districts have used.”
Rody Boonchouy noted they have a new social studies framework that has “in deep and significant ways raised issues of cultural awareness of historical eras and experiences, perspectives, or perspectives that have forever not been acknowledged or recognized which why are a fan of the revisions to that framework.”
He added, they are not their own courses but “we’re seeing that integration much more clearly now.”
Ms. Moreno told the Vanguard, “I think that it’s important for our DJUSD leaders and Trustees to understand that Ethnic Studies is for the academics and social emotion of all students and community. The research, goals, metrics and actions/services (courses), and service learning already exist to support the effectiveness of Ethnic Studies. “
—David M. Greenwald reporting