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Santa Barbara School Board Poised to OK Ethnic Studies Graduation Requirement

Formal vote on the proposal is slated for Nov. 13; it would go into effect for the class of 2023

High school students turned out in force Tuesday night  the Santa Barbara Unified School District Board of Eduction Click to view larger
High school students turned out in force Tuesday night for a discussion by the Santa Barbara Unified School District Board of Eduction of a proposal to add ethnic studies to high school graduation requirements. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

Students could soon have to take five units of ethnic studies to graduate from high school, the Santa Barbara Unified School District board of education decided Tuesday night. 

The requirement, which is one tool envisioned to help close the achievement gap, is scheduled to go into effect for the class of 2023.

All five board members showed strong support for the proposal at Tuesday night's meeting, and a formal vote is schedule for Nov. 13.

No one spoke in opposition to the change at the meeting. 

"This is not just a local movement, it is a national movement," said Shawn Carey, assistant superintendent of secondary education.

The recommendation does not increase the total number of credits required to earn a high school diploma. Students graduating from the district would still be required to complete 220 credits, including 45 elective credits.

According to the District, the ethnic studies requirement would be fulfilled in one of three ways:

» Completion of a new elective survey course, “Ethnic Studies," which can be taken at one time or over two semesters.

» Completion of a qualifying “Core-Integrated” English Language Arts or Social Studies course that includes a college prepatory and honors version of “English 9: Ethnic and Social Justice Studies Emphasis.” 

» Completion of a dual-enrollment course in ethnic studies that fulfills the specifications for ethnic studies as validated through the articulation agreement between the district and Santa Barbara City College.

"It is so important to know a whole history, a whole history creates a whole person," said board member Ismael Paredes-Ulloa. "I would love to see a Pre-K version of ethnic studies down the line all the way to 12th grade."

Paredes-Ulloa said one day he hopes there is no need for separate classes. 

"Hopefully we get to a point where we don't have to call it ethnic studies," Paredes-Ulloa said. "We can just call it history. I really do believe that the introduction of ethnic studies is going to go a long way to creating more safety in our district."

Board member Kate Parker noted that although the requirement won't increase the number of units it takes to graduate, one side effect is that there will be fewer students taking other electives, such as career tech. 

Board member Laura Capps said the ethnic studies classes might provide some healing to the nationwide political and cultural divisions.

"It's hard to imagine a time that has been more divisive," Capps said. "This is something to feel hopeful about, and a break from the dissidence. I only wish a previous generation had ethnic studies."

Speaker Chelsea Lancaster praised the activists who pushed the district to add ethnic studies. 

"These youth are leaders in this community," Lancaster said. "The youth are hungry for it. It is really the adults who are resistant. It really needs to be led by the people who are closest to the pain."

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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