California Department of Education Develops First Statewide Ethnic Studies Curriculum

California hopes to implement the course by 2023.

California hopes to implement the course by 2023. Shutterstock

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STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Atlanta city council considers e-scooter ban … Opioid crisis causing special education rates to surge in Kentucky… Appeals court in Mississippi upholds new voting districts that give African Americans more power.

The California Department of Education has unveiled the first statewide ethnic studies curriculum for high school students in the country.  The course is intended to “encourage cultural understanding of how different groups have struggled and worked together, highlighting core ethnic studies concepts such as equality, justice, race, ethnicity, [and] indigeneity.” The state Department of Education said that shifting demographics and an increasingly diverse population show the benefit of this kind of class. “There is a legitimate need to address the academic and social needs of such a population...All students should be better equipped with the knowledge and skills to successfully navigate our increasingly diverse society,” the curriculum reads. But with the curriculum now open for public comment, it has received mixed reviews. Some conservatives have decried the way the course portrays capitalism as intricately linked to racism.  Others criticized the inclusion of the Boycott, Divest, Sanctions movement, a pro-Palestinian group. “Placing BDS alongside domestically-focused civil rights movements is especially problematic as BDS is an international movement whose focus goes significantly beyond the disciplinary boundaries of American ethnic studies, which focuses on the experiences and struggles of ethnic groups within the United States,” reads a letter from several Jewish state legislators. Proponents of the course have cited studies that extol the positive effects of ethnic studies courses on attendance, particularly of minority students; in 2016, researchers at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, found that a high school ethnic studies course dramatically increased attendance and academic performance of students at risk of dropping out. While a bill was introduced earlier this year to mandate all students take ethnic studies to graduate, former Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a similar proposal last year out of concerns students already have too many required courses. Members of the Salinas United High School District board of trustees already voted to implement the course requirement in 2020. "Research demonstrates that ethnic studies courses and culturally proficient education yields benefits for all students, regardless of background, but particular improvements in outcomes from students in historically underrepresented groups," Blanca Baltazar-Sabbah, SUHSD associate superintendent. [CBS Sacramento; The Californian; Sacramento Bee

E-SCOOTER BAN | A city council member in Atlanta has introduced legislation that would revoke the City Planning Department’s authority to issue permits for rental e-scooters after the city’s third scooter-related death happened last week. The father of one of the three victims spoke before the council. "There's no reason for debate. There's no reason to drag your feet. Do the right thing. Do something now before another needless death occurs,” said William Douglas Alexander, whose 37-year-old son was struck by a bus while riding a scooter. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has already vowed to ban all new scooter permits. Council member Carla Smith’s legislation would allow current scooter permits to run their one-year course; it seems unlikely now that they will be renewed beyond that. Bruce Hagan, a bike law attorney, suggested that the council change the laws to make riding scooters safer, such as by allowing them on the sidewalks. “There are times when it’s safer for folks to ride on sidewalks. It should be [left to] the discretion of the person who is on a scooter or a bike,” he said. Lance Bottoms said the city is still considering all options. “Given the serious effects these devices have on our infrastructure, public safety, and quality of life, the city cannot allow this rapidly growing industry to move faster than our ability to regulate it. In the coming weeks, this administration will introduce a larger solution to keep our streets safe for all modes of transportation—including scooters, cars, bikes and wheelchairs—and ensure greater equity in mobility,” she said. [FOX 5 Atlanta; Atlanta Business Chronicle; Atlanta Journal-Constitution

OPIOID SPECIAL EDUCATION | States are beginning to experience the downwind effects of the opioid crisis in schools, as more and more students who were born to addicted parents exhibit developmental delays and special education needs. In Kentucky, some districts have seen more preschoolers with special needs than those without. Director of Advocacy for the Kentucky School Board Association Eric Kennedy said that teachers “are seeing the... first generation of children enter our kindergarten, first grade that were born with essentially drugs in their system, that were born with that neonatal abstinence syndrome.” Babies can be born with NAS if their mothers use drugs while pregnant, and the syndrome can cause tremors, vomiting, and seizures into childhood or even adulthood. Roughly 22 out of every 1,000 babies born in Kentucky in 2017 had NAS, and in more rural areas of the state, that ratio rose to nearly 65 out of every 1,000. While school districts have reached a general consensus that more funding is needed for special education teachers, the exact number of students affected by NAS is unknown. “Certain developmental delays “a consequence of the crisis, but we don’t know which piece,” said Kentucky Department of Public Health Deputy Commissioner Connie White, who questioned what the best practice going forward would be. “Do we even want to start telling people these kids are NAS babies? If we start telling teachers, are they going to be treated differently?” [Lexington Herald-Leader; Education Week]

MISSISSIPPI REDISTRICTING | A federal appeals court ruled this week that newly drawn districts in Mississippi will stand for the state senate primaries, ending a fight between Gov. Phil Bryant and local black activists. The plaintiffs sued the state last year over state senate district lines, which they claimed disenfranchised and diluted the strength of black voters. A U.S. District Court judge agreed, and ordered state lawmakers to redraw the district lines to give black voters more power. Bryant, a Republican, then sued to overturn the new district lines in favor of the old ones. A federal appeals court rejected that request this week. The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, whose executive director Kristen Clarke led the legal fight on behalf of the plaintiffs, praised the court’s decision. “We are gratified that the 5th Circuit has agreed that the overwhelming evidence in this case showed that the Mississippi Legislature drew District 22 in a way that deprived African American voters of an equal opportunity to participate in the political process.  This is an important victory,” she said. [Associated Press; Mississippi Today]

MICHIGAN STRIKE | Two-hundred workers who resurface and replace state roadways in Michigan are striking over contract issues. Both the company and the workers have filed complaints about unfair labor practices to the National Labor Relations Board, which has not reached any decisions. In the meantime, negotiations have stalled, leaving many roadways in the state unfinished. “Some projects are stopped on freeways and some local projects in other areas while trying to find new sources of asphalt,” said union spokesman Dan McKernan. The government contractor engaged in the negotiations with workers, Rieth-Riley, has about 90 projects in the state totaling $171.8 million. Jeff Cranson, a Michigan Department of Transportation spokesman, said that the state is working to continue these projects while negotiations continue. "The projects across the state are in various stages of construction, but work continues on the vast majority. For the sake of the safety and convenience of the traveling public, MDOT officials remain hopeful the two sides will reach an agreement soon,” he said. [Crain’s Detroit Business; The Detroit News]

Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty. 

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