Updated, April 9, 2014:
Instead of making Mexican-American studies an official high school course, the Texas State Board of Education has settled on a tentative compromise that would allow school districts to decide whether to offer the course.
"It wasn't necessarily what we were hoping, with a stand-alone course for Mexican-American studies," member Marisa Perez, a San Antonio Democrat, said in an interview after the meeting. "But it's definitely a step in the right direction."
In an 11-3 vote, board members added the class — along with African-American studies, Native American studies and Asian-American studies — to the list of instructional materials that publishers will develop for Texas social studies standards in the 2016-17 school year. That means schools will have a list of state-approved textbooks and other resources to choose from if they opt to give the class.
"This will enable districts to teach courses in Mexican-American studies, African-American studies, Native American studies if they choose to do so," said board member Marty Rowley, who spoke in favor of the motion, supporting local development of the courses for school districts. "There is curriculum out there, there are materials out there, and publishers are free to submit those materials."
The board will have a final vote on Friday.
Ahead of State Board of Education meetings this week, activist groups rallied in support of adding Mexican-American studies as an official Texas high school elective. But at least one board member suggested the likelihood is slim.
"Very frankly speaking, there is some division in regards to how this course is going to be implemented and adopted," said Board member Marisa Perez, who supports the effort.
Previous attempts to get the course onto the SBOE’s agenda have been unsuccessful. On Tuesday, education and civil rights groups including the Texas chapter of the NAACP, the Texas Latino Education Coalition, Librotraficante and the Texas Freedom Network said they hoped the board would vote to implement the course — on the docket along with other possible new courses — during meetings set for Wednesday and Friday.
“The SBOE must document our history,” said Tony Diaz of Librotraficante.
Debbie Ratcliffe, spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency, which is responsible for creating new courses, said it's too early to know what the board will vote on — though many speakers had signed up to discuss the Mexican-American studies course.
The course is one of 20 new classes that the board is considering this week. Ratcliffe said the board has limited bandwidth to advise on the development of new courses, and that some new courses are already being developed in response to legislation from the 2013 session, including algebraic reasoning, statistics and personal financial literacy.
Supporters of the course argue that in a state where more than 50 percent of public school students are Hispanic and enrollment continues to climb, such a class is long overdue.
“There are more than 200 elective courses in the state curriculum, including classes on topics like floral design and web gaming,” Kathy Miller, the president of the Texas Freedom Network, said in a statement. “Surely there is room for an elective course that teaches students how Mexican Americans have helped shaped our nation's history.”
Opponents have suggested that ethnic studies classes are divisive, and they point out that individual districts already have the authority to develop Mexican-American studies as so-called innovative courses.
“We’re not about Hispanic history; we’re about American history,” board member Patricia Hardy said in previous interview. “We’re not about taking each little group out and saying, ‘You’re the majority, so we’re going to teach your history.’ We’re Americans, United States people.”
Board member Ruben Cortez said merely giving individual districts permission to offer the course doesn't go far enough. He said the course should be official so districts have a consistent curriculum and textbooks they can choose to adopt.
“When you have a state that has a majority of Latino students in their public schools, this is a course that should go beyond the 'innovative' track and be proven by this body as a course that's offered as one of our approved courses,” Cortez, a Democrat, said at a January board meeting.
The state’s largest school district, Houston ISD, has also called for Mexican-American studies to be an official elective. While Ratcliffe said creating a course from scratch doesn't happen often, activists are remaining hopeful ahead of the board meetings.
“Ignorance is a breeding ground for racism,” the NAACP's Gary Bledsoe said at Tuesday's press conference. “We must say that Texas history is our history, including Latino Texans. That story has not been effectively and accurately told in our education system."