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Groups Push for Ethnic Studies in Oregon Schools

Groups are calling on Oregon lawmakers to pass standards for ethnic studies in the state's public schools. (APANO)
Groups are calling on Oregon lawmakers to pass standards for ethnic studies in the state's public schools. (APANO)
February 20, 2017

SALEM, Ore. — A coalition of groups wants to bring the stories and contributions of underrepresented communities into classrooms across Oregon.

The Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, will be in Salem Monday to urge lawmakers to pass House Bill 2845, which would create an advisory group in the Department of Education to develop ethnic studies standards for public schools.

Jessica Yu is a student at Franklin High School in Portland and youth organizer with APANO. Yu said in school, she didn't see many people that looked like her in textbooks.

"It's sort of demoralizing sometimes, to not hear about people like you succeeding because sometimes, you think that you can't succeed,” Yu said. "So, I think reminding folks that people like us do exist and care about what we learn, and letting them know that this is what we want to learn, is important."

Also included in an ethnic studies curriculum are social minorities - including women, people with disabilities, immigrants, refugees and individuals who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. The bill has sponsors from both parties.

In 2016, Portland Public Schools' board members unanimously approved a plan to offer ethnic studies classes in high schools by 2018. Zahir Janmohamed, policy director at APANO, said the push for statewide standards has a different air to it under the Trump administration.

"There are certain communities right now that are particularly vulnerable, and while ethnic studies isn't meant to sort of directly address these changes at the national level, it is a way to make these spaces more inclusive,” Janmohamed said.

Lamar Wise is legislative director for the Oregon Student Association. He said ethnic studies offer an opportunity for students who are not part of underrepresented groups to learn more about their peers, and possibly use that knowledge later in life.

"We're wanting to make sure that students are prepared to go into college or into the workforce able to communicate with folks from different backgrounds,” Wise said.

About 100 APANO members will also ask lawmakers to consider bills that prohibit landlords from terminating month-to-month tenancy without cause, and that provide coverage for reproductive health.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR