The Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District intends to require a yearlong ethnic studies course for all incoming freshmen starting in the 2023-2024 school year, according to a proposal to the school board this week.
The plan teachers and administrators laid out at a Sept. 27 board meeting represents the most detailed roadmap thus far of what the course could look like, although many elements are still being worked out.
"Today we are not proposing the curriculum for the course," Associate Superintendent Teri Faught told the board. "We are telling you that we are committed and that we are on the journey."
The intent is to bring a proposed curriculum to the board for review in the spring, administrators said. District staff are advocating for a two-year rollout, with an optional elective course offered next school year and then full implementation the following fall.
Board members appeared generally supportive of the proposal, although some had questions about the specifics of what the course would cover. No formal vote was taken.
"I like the way this is going and I like the recommendation that you brought to us," board President Fiona Walter said.
Local activists, including current students, recent graduates and teachers, have been pushing the district to commit to offering a mandatory, yearlong ethnic studies course for freshmen. At the same time, some students and parents have spoken at past meetings raising concerns about whether the course will be balanced.
Those who spoke at Monday's meeting universally supported the proposal to offer ethnic studies, praising the district for moving ahead, while pushing for a concrete commitment from the board to follow through.
"I couldn't imagine how excited I would have been as a ninth grader if I had the opportunity to have taken that class," Los Altos High School graduate Kenan Moos said. "It will be really cool for those students who get to be able to do this."
Ethnic studies has been the subject of controversy at the state level. A first draft of a statewide ethnic studies model curriculum was rejected a few years ago amid heated debate, particularly over whether the content was anti-semetic. The State Board of Education adopted a revised ethnic studies model curriculum earlier this year, though its use is voluntary.
The state legislature passed a bill this month that would make a one-semester ethnic studies course a graduation requirement starting in the 2029-2030 school year. The bill is currently on Gov. Gavin Newsom's desk.
High school district administrators stressed that the ethnic studies course they are proposing will be inclusive and benefit students of all racial backgrounds. By examining the struggles and contributions of all groups, particularly those that have been underrepresented, Faught said students can better see themselves in the story of the United States.
"The ethnic studies course dispels myths and builds connections, as opposed to divisions, amongst students," Faught said.
The idea of offering ethnic studies has been discussed among school staff for five to six years, Los Altos High social studies teacher Derek Miyahara said, adding that the effort was revitalized last summer. That's when leaders of local racial justice protests began calling for the district to implement ethnic studies.
"We started to ramp up our efforts and we started to talk together about what an ethnic studies course might be," Miyahara said.
According to Mountain View High social studies department coordinator Nate Bowen, teachers at both schools have been meeting to plan for the course and are starting to vet curriculum.
"Now's the time for action," Bowen said. "We really see this as an opportunity to build … a really important and impactful course that will benefit all of our students."
Speakers at Monday's meeting urged the district to consult with people of color in the local community, and particularly students, as they develop the course. One parent stressed to the board that there is community backing, even if some raise objections.
"The fact is that you have parent support," Christine Yum Lenz said. "You need to know that. We'll back you up."
Board member Phil Faillace said he wanted to see a detailed curriculum in the spring, with enough time for board and community feedback, adding that there's the potential for the course to "risk treading into the area where it stops being education and starts being indoctrination."
"It is one thing to teach students not to be racist and how to challenge racism," Faillace said. "It's another to pressure them into participating in social activist activities."
Los Altos High School graduate Maya Acharya pushed back on Faillace's comments.
"To the point of indoctrination that was brought up earlier, I feel like I was indoctrinated going to Los Altos High School to tolerate racism and not feel like I could speak up about it," Acharya said, adding that offering ethnic studies would better set students up for success.
Mountain View High social studies teacher Julie Yick, who is helping to develop the district's ethnic studies course and is completing a dissertation on high school ethnic studies curriculums, told the board that teachers are committed to examining diverse perspectives.