An ethnic studies course may be added to the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District’s curriculum, a proposal designed to benefit students of all racial backgrounds.

Teri Faught, associate superintendent of educational services, led a discussion at the Sept. 27 MVLA Board of Trustees meeting on the prospect of introducing an ethnic studies course.

“The ethnic studies course dispels myths and builds connections as opposed to division among students,” she said. “Research tells us that well-designed and well-taught ethnic studies curricula that teach directly about races and racism produce higher levels of critical thinking and have a positive impact on democracy outcomes, particularly when they include cross-root interactions.”

Faught added that research also confirms that students who participate in ethnic studies are more academically engaged, develop a stronger sense of self-advocacy and personal empowerment and graduate at higher rates.

By examining struggles and contributions of all groups, in particular underrepresented groups, Faught said students can expand their perspectives and better see themselves and their peers as part of the story of the United States.

According to Julie Yick, social studies teacher at Mountain View High, ethnic studies is the interdisciplinary study of race and ethnicity, with an emphasis on the experiences and contributions of people of color in the U.S.

“Students develop a deeper understanding of their personal identity, their racial and cultural backgrounds, and the diverse cultures of their peers,” Yick said. “Students learn about the root causes and impact of systemic racism and various forms of oppression. Ethnic studies teaches students about historical and contemporary movements for social change and ways to challenge racism and discrimination and positively transform their communities.”

Program principles

An ethnic studies course curriculum, Yick said, should honor the following principles and characteristics.

• Be culturally responsive, inclusive and nondiscriminatory.

• Adhere to Common Core State Standards.

• Provide opportunities to strengthen civic engagement.

The course also should discuss the following topics, as reflected in other ethnic studies courses Yick has reviewed.

• Race, ethnicity, gender and systems of power

• Social movements

• Black and African Americans, Asian Americans, Latino Americans and Native Americans

• Transformation and change

Fraught said the ethnic studies course is proposed to start in the 2023-2024 school year and is currently designed as a full-year course.

“There was a lot of discussion between semester and full-year,” Faught said of the class length. “We did not want to rush through units in a semester, and a year is better to accomplish building up diverse communities.”

The goal is to introduce the course to students in the ninth grade, with an aim to bring them together freshman year by building a community through diverse perspectives. Encouraging students to feel comfortable with their identity and the identities of others will support their engagement and build school culture and community for the rest of their high school years, according to Faught.

Others weigh in

MVLA trustee Phil Faillace advocated for proceeding with caution, recommending that a detailed curriculum be presented to the board by the spring.

“There is potential in this ethnic studies program and any ethnic studies program that’s being developed to have controversial ideas and to risk treading into the area where it stops being education and starts being indoctrination,” he said. “The community is very worried about those two areas. With respect to controversial ideas, the Ed Code requires that a balanced presentation be made whenever that happens in a course.”

Faillace further cautioned against indoctrination, advising that the high schools and staff should be sensitive about how they grade students’ performance in the course.

“It is one thing to teach students not to be racist and how to challenge racism,” he said. “It’s another to pressure them into participating in social-activist activities. I think we have to be very careful in how we navigate that space. I hope that a detailed curriculum will spell it out for the elective course, the pilot course, next year.”

Krissy Koh, a junior at Mountain View High, said at the meeting that while she is excited about the possibility of an ethnic studies course, she hopes there will be significant student involvement with its creation and implementation.

“Students are going to be the ones in this course, in the classrooms,” Koh said. “We’re the ones engaging on campus, and what’s really important about ethnic studies is that it’s personalized and tailored to your community. In order to make that happen, I think the student perspective is extremely valuable because we have the best idea of understanding where our peers are, and when it comes to understanding racism, which becomes an invaluable lens in creating this course.”

Christine Lenz, an MVLA parent, briefly discussed her experiences as a person of Korean heritage. Up until recently, she expressed that not many people even knew about Korea.

“To have ethnic studies come now, in 2023-2024, that’s a little bit late, in my point of view. We need to catch up,” she told the board. “You need to catch up with the rest of the community; everybody knows what systemic racism is. You guys are going to get so much pushback from the community; national orgs are going to tell you not to do it. As a parent, you have our support. And there’s a lot of parents like me.”

COVID update

MVLA has one of the highest percentages of staff vaccinated or testing for COVID among school districts in Santa Clara County, Superintendent Nellie Meyer said in an update at last week’s board meeting.

According to Meyer, “98% of our staff are vaccinated or are testing twice a week for those who have absolutely chosen not to be vaccinated – that is a very high number.”

Meyer added that the district continues to monitor those who are testing with the aim of ensuring a “safe atmosphere.”

As for MVLA students, 50% have reported being vaccinated.

“Right away, we were in the 45-50% range, and it definitely plateaued,” Meyer said. “We know more students are vaccinated, we just need to make sure that we get that information.”

Schools keep vaccination status private, Meyer said, as well as information on who has contracted COVID.

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Staff Writer

Angela Tam covers local schools as the Town Crier's education reporter.