The Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District's board has paved the way to add an ethnic studies class for all incoming ninth graders this fall by updating its graduation requirements to include the course.
The school board unanimously voted at a Monday, Jan. 23, meeting to reduce its elective requirement by a semester and to drop a one-semester global studies requirement in order to accommodate a yearlong ethnic studies course. The change won't impact current students, instead applying to students starting high school in the 2023-24 school year and beyond.
The district has been piloting an ethnic studies class this school year and plans to have all freshmen take a similar course starting in the fall. That's two years ahead of a state mandate for districts to provide at least one semester of the subject beginning in the 2025-26 school year. MVLA has opted for a full-year course.
District staff have described ethnic studies at past meetings as the interdisciplinary study of race and ethnicity, with an emphasis placed on the experiences and contributions of people of color.
Adding a yearlong ethnic studies class will change the social studies sequence for freshman and sophomore year. The global studies requirement that the board eliminated is currently generally fulfilled with a one-semester "contemporary world issues" class taken sophomore year, which students typically pair with a semester of health. Alternatively, sophomores can take Advanced Placement world history, European history or human geography to fulfill the global studies requirement. These students then take health online, during the summer or in another year.
The global studies requirement dates back roughly 15 years, when the board added it to help students prepare for a standardized test that no longer exists. At the time, there wasn't a sophomore year history class and students were having problems with a state-mandated test administered at the end of tenth grade, Associate Superintendent Teri Faught said at a prior meeting. With that test no longer in use, district administrators recommended removing the global studies requirement to help clear space for ethnic studies.
"Eliminating the global studies requirement is actually something that is overdue," said President Phil Faillace, who has served on the board since 1996.
Under the new system, all freshmen will take ethnic studies. That will bump the current ninth grade social studies class, called world studies (different from global studies, despite the similar name), into sophomore year. Tenth graders will now be able to take either world studies or one of the AP options. Since all these options are full year courses, health will have to be taken separately.
The district also voted to reduce its elective requirement for graduation from 60 credits to 55. Five credits generally equate to one semester of a class. Any classes taken beyond the graduation requirements count as an elective.
Since the elective requirement is no longer equal to an even number of years, the district plans to expand its semester-long elective offerings, which are currently limited.
The one member of the public who spoke at Monday's meeting on the ethnic studies item favored adding the class. Kiyoshi Taylor, a 2015 Los Altos High School graduate who has advocated for a required ethnic studies class for over two years, thanked the board for moving ahead on the issue.
"I'm actually rather pleased to see where we're at. I'm pleased to see the new board members also being very committed to this," Taylor said. "I'm just excited for the next round of kids who get to go through this (class)."
The board plans to discuss this year's ethnic studies pilot and plans for full implementation in the fall at a March 24 board meeting, Superintendent Nellie Meyer said.
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