When on campus, Lisa Riggs spends most of her time in the classroom monitoring both teachers and students like Caroline Alvarado (left) and Alizon Crisanto.
The Texas State Board of Education could approve an African American studies curriculum as soon as next year. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

State Board of Education members took the first step Wednesday toward establishing a second ethnic studies course for Texas students.

The 15-member board heard Wednesday morning from advocates supporting the creation of an African American studies course, a little more than a year after SBOE members approved the course Ethnic Studies: Mexican American Studies.

“When you look into a yearbook … what do you look for?” said Lawrence Scott, a professor at Texas A&M University-San Antonio. “You look for yourself. Well … a lot of our students … don’t see themselves in the curricula nor do they see themselves in any of the books. Therefore, that’s why we need this course.”

Scott was one of dozens of advocates who signed up to speak in favor of the proposed course Wednesday morning.

Texas A&M University-San Antonio professor Lawrence Scott

Many of the course’s proponents argued that the course would benefit all students, not just African Americans.

In Dallas Independent School District, which currently offers the course, 40 percent of the students enrolled are Mexican American, said Leslie Williams, Dallas ISD’s deputy chief of racial equity.

“And we have very similar data in reference to African American students who are enrolled in the Mexican American Studies course,” Williams added.

No San Antonio school district offers such a course at this time, although San Antonio and Northside ISDs said they would likely offer it if the SBOE approves standards for the course.

The board was overwhelmingly supportive of the idea. SBOE Chair Keven Ellis began Wednesday morning’s hearing on the course by laying out a proposed timeline for its approval.

Wednesday morning’s hearing kicked off the process with an opportunity for public input. The first reading of the course proposal is planned for January, with final adoption slated for next April.

Texas Education Agency officials plan to develop State standards for an African American Studies class based on Dallas ISD’s. The curriculum would span African civilizations through present time, a TEA official said Wednesday.

Ellis (R-Lufkin) told his fellow board members he anticipates the course being in place for the start of the 2020-21 school year.

SBOE member Marisa Perez-Diaz (D-San Antonio) was a leading advocate for the creation of State standards for Mexican American Studies. The approval of Texas’ first ethnic studies course laid the groundwork for an African American studies course, she told the Rivard Report last week.

“Both in higher ed and K-12, there was just a really intense amount of work that went into making sure these courses are great for kids,” Perez-Diaz said. “We need to be able to tell our own stories and have children learn stories about people that look like them.”

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Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.