Students of the Mexican American Studies class at KIPP: Camino raise their hands when teacher Lucero Saldaña asks a question regarding Mexican identity.
Mexican-American Studies students at KIPP Camino raise their hands when their teacher, Lucero Saldaña, asks a question regarding cultural identity. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Following controversy and protests, members of the State Board of Education changed course Wednesday, amending the title of a proposed high school social studies elective to “Ethnic Studies: Mexican American Studies.”

Meeting in Austin on Wednesday, board members voted to scrap a previous decision to call the course “Ethnic Studies: An Overview of Americans of Mexican Descent.” Advocates for creating the class testified before the board Tuesday, urging that the course be called simply Mexican-American Studies.

The compromise title adopted Wednesday was suggested by member Georgina Pérez (D-El Paso), who emphasized that she was making a point by not including a hyphen. At the board meeting in April when trustees first approved the development of state standards for a Mexican-American studies course, member David Bradley (R-Beaumont) said he found “hyphenated-Americanism” to be divisive.

Bradley’s statement and the ensuing board vote to approve his proposal to use the name “Ethnic Studies: An Overview of Americans of Mexican Descent” sparked a series of rallies throughout the state by advocates who have pushed for years for state standards for a Mexican-American Studies course.

Mexican-American Studies is currently offered in schools around the state, including on several San Antonio campuses, but there are no state-approved standards, which advocates argue makes it harder for smaller districts to create curriculum or find educational resources.

In April, the SBOE approved the creation of state standards for the course, which will be based on a class currently offered in the Houston Independent School District.

Some board members on Wednesday opposed including “ethnic studies” in the title. Ruben Cortez Jr. (D-Brownsville) said there was no reason to add it to the name of the class when there are no other ethnic studies courses approved at the time. He invited members of the public to provide feedback on this portion of the course title as they did on the previous one suggested by Bradley, and asked other board members who said they would wait to hear feedback to be receptive to it if it came.

Another board member, Tom Maynard (R-Florence), suggested that by including ethnic studies as a prefix, the board was suggesting there would be more ethnic studies courses to come.

During Wednesday’s meeting, the SBOE also approved changes to a section of the proposed standards that incorporated greater emphasis on United States culture. One section that originally said students would be expected to “describe the rights and responsibilities of Mexican Americans…” was changed to say “Mexican Americans as Americans…”

Board member Barbara Cargill (R-Conroe) introduced the changes and said they would help “…[make] sure our students identify as Americans first.”

Wednesday’s vote was the tentative first step in the process to approve the course’s standards. A second vote will be taken on Friday. Members of the public will have an opportunity to give feedback on Pérez’s suggested name and the standards before the board’s meeting in September.

A final vote on the state standards for the course is expected to take place in November.

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Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.