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LAUSD requiring ethnic studies for graduation

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By 2019, every Los Angeles Unified School District high school student will need to take a class in ethnic studies to graduate.

The LAUSD board voted 6-1 on Tuesday to require the courses and increase ethnic studies classes as hundreds of students rallied outside the district's downtown headquarters, shouting "We won!"

District officials estimate the new requirement will cost $3.9 million to roll out to all 140,00 high school students, but the board has yet to be presented with the program's budget.

Ethnic studies, the interdisciplinary study of race, ethnicity and culture, has long been offered in colleges, but has not been widely available in high schools. 

Several ethnic studies courses, such as Chicano Literature or African American History, are already offered at 19 district schools, but fewer than half count towards California university entrance, according to a board report.

Supporters say exposing students to the stories and cultures of other ethnicities promotes racial tolerance and teaches a more accurate version of the country's history.

“There is a saying: 'The real story of the hunter will be told when the lion and the buffalo get to write,'" said LAUSD board member George McKenna, co-sponsor of the resolution who represents South Los Angeles. 

Angie Escalante, a senior at Orthopaedic Hospital Medical Magnet High School near USC, complained her history and literature courses focus too heavily on white people.

"It says that we don't exist and when we do, it's for something bad," Escalante said. She heard about the initiative to require ethnic studies and encouraged her classmates to attend the board meeting – a first for many.

"When I heard we would have the chance to change history, I was like, 'That would be awesome,'" said Brenda Perez, her voice cracking from four hours of shouting.

"We think this builds a young person's sense of self and empathy in others,"said Manuel Criollo with Community Rights Campaign, an advocacy group supporting the ethnic studies policy. The group shuttled in dozens of Little Caesars' pizzas to feed the crowds of teenagers.

Board member Tamar Galatzan cast the lone vote against the ethnic studies requirement. She said she feared it would pack students' schedules too tightly and expressed concerns about the financial impact from adding the new classes.

“I believe we should work these issues out first," Galatzan said.

A task force  of students, parents, district personnel, ethnic studies scholars and LAUSD teachers will meet next year to discuss the curriculum and the superintendent will create a report on budget and staffing.

"The real conversation is how much resources will be allocated," Criollo said.

LAUSD is the second district in the state after EL Rancho Unified in Pico Rivera to require students to take classes in ethnic studies.

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