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Ethnic Studies Bill Heads to Governor's Desk

Oregon students led the passage of a bill creating ethnic studies in the state's K-12 schools. (APANO)
Oregon students led the passage of a bill creating ethnic studies in the state's K-12 schools. (APANO)
June 23, 2017

SALEM, Ore. – Students and racial-justice groups in the state are among those applauding a bill now on the governor's desk that should make Oregon schools feel more inclusive for students of color.

Under House Bill 2845, the Oregon Department of Education will adopt ethnic studies standards in social studies classes for K-12 schools statewide.

Zahir Janmohamed is policy director of the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, one of the groups that backed the bill. He says Oregon students are the ones who pushed for it.

"It didn't come about from academics, it didn't come about from sort of policy groups, it came about from youth," he says. "So, this is really their victory today."

California is the only other state to establish ethnic studies standards. The new standards will focus on the histories of communities of color, as well as Jewish and LGBTQ communities, and gender groups.

Lamar Wise, the legislative director of the Oregon Student Association says students of color in Oregon have been concerned for a long time about the lack of representation in textbooks and the curriculum.

Wise says the problem has even contributed to higher absenteeism. However, he says the recent rise in hate crimes, such as a racially-motivated stabbing on a Portland train, heightened the urgency of this bill.

"The frustration from students has come to a point where it's climaxed, and there's been an upswell of students and organizations who wanted to address it," he explains. "And I think legislators also felt that same way, which is why they passed the bill."

After Gov. Kate Brown signs the bill, Wise says his group and others will be watching as the Oregon Department of Education develops rules and assembles an advisory committee. For now, he commends the students' grassroots movement that helped get this bill passed.

"There was a lot of planning that went into it, and students did a great job in making sure that they were leading the effort and that their stories were at the forefront," Wise adds.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR