About 50 UCLA students took part in a rally in support of a diversity-related course requirement for the Los Angeles Unified School District in downtown Los Angeles Tuesday.
Hundreds of students, parents and teachers took part in the march around LAUSD headquarters on South Beaudry Avenue. Members of dozens of organizations carried posters stating their support for the creation of the requirement, which would require LAUSD students to take an ethnic studies course to graduate high school.
“I’m here because LAUSD is teaching to the Common Core (State Standards Initiative),” said Edna Montez, mother of Edna Cerritos, a senior at the UCLA Community School. “My daughter is only learning what the state wants her to learn and not about her heritage.”
Student groups Students for Education Reform at UCLA and MEChA de UCLA attended the rally as part of the Ethnic Studies Now Coalition, which consists of students, teachers, community-based organizations and 70 elected officials, said Jose Lara, dean of the Santee Education Complex. Bennett Kayser, an LAUSD board member, proposed the resolution to create a requirement in October, around the same time that UCLA College of Letters and Science faculty voted to approve a diversity course requirement. The two requirements, however, are not connected.
LAUSD board members voted 6-1 in favor of the resolution Tuesday.
Rosalinda Miguel, a fourth-year political science and Chicana/o studies student and co-chapter leader of Students for Education Reform at UCLA, said she thinks the requirement is similar to the one passed by UCLA faculty in October. The group has tried to educate others about the resolution by emailing professors and contacting other student organizations to email LAUSD board members and attend the rally, she said.
“UCLA just passed a diversity requirement, so it’s a good parallel for the LAUSD one. Ethnic studies is a good contribution on an academic and cultural level for students,” Miguel said.
Nationally, schools are debating whether diversity requirements are necessary.
High schools in Honolulu and San Francisco have adopted diversity requirements similar to UCLA’s, while Arizona passed HB 2281 in 2010, banning classes that it thought advocated for ethnic solidarity or were designed for a specific ethnic group.
As a result of the Arizona law, schools in Tucson eliminated their Mexican-American studies program, but a federal court ordered them reinstated last year.
Mitchell Chang, a professor at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, said he thinks diversity requirements benefit students academically and culturally.
“These requirements give students an opportunity to be exposed to a wider range of information and a broader curriculum that’s not typically provided in those schools,” Chang said.
Cerritos said she wants to learn about what she calls real history instead of the current curriculum, which she says doesn’t focus enough on minority achievements.
Some opponents of the LAUSD diversity requirement, including board member Tamar Galatzan, have said they think it would make graduating from high school harder because it adds a class to current requirements. Opponents have also said they think a diversity requirement would foster divisions along ethnic lines.
Galatzan said during the meeting that she was concerned about budgeting, scheduling and isolating ethnic studies courses as classes specifically categorized under the requirement as opposed to integrating them in current social studies or English classes.
Erica Huerta, a social science teacher at the Academy of Environmental and Social Policy in LAUSD, said that current history and English teachers would be able to teach the new ethnic studies classes. Schools would also get to decide individually how their ethnic studies courses would look, as long as they meet the requirement set by LAUSD.
The Ethnic Studies Now Coalition said that since the life skills requirement, which covers topics such as job interview preparation, was dropped from the LAUSD high school course requirements in 2012, there is not an extra graduation requirement.
The ethnic studies class would also be a University of California-approved elective, and the coalition said the class can be counted toward applying to the UC or CSU systems.
LAUSD could not be reached for comment on the resolution.