LEISD ethnic studies course

Little Elm ISD Board of Trustees Vice President Jason Olson, center, and other board members discuss plans for two ethnic studies courses.

Little Elm ISD is moving forward with plans to offer two ethnic study courses in the 2022-23 school year.

The courses – African American studies and Mexican American studies – were approved by the LEISD Board of Trustees on Monday in a 4-2 vote.

With the approval the courses will be added to the district’s course catalog for high school students in October. The courses will count as social studies electives.

But much work needs to be done in the coming year before the courses begin. Cyndy Mika, assistant superintendent of curriculum and learning, said the next step is to develop the scope and sequence of the courses. She said by the end of next summer the district will have the scope, sequences, unit assessment and resources in place.

Board members were divided on whether the district should offer the course. Trustee DeLeon English, who voted against the motion to approve the courses, said he is concerned the courses have the potential to be divisive, especially in such polarizing times.

“We’re in a very hyper sensitive environment right now,” English said. “And if I’m asked by a community member what is taught in this course, what does this course entail, what resources are our teachers using, how are they using the resources, I have no answer for them at all.”

He pointed to incidents over the last year he said has divided the community and said these courses opens the door for the instruction to gravitate toward personal and perhaps divisive views.

“If I truly understood what was going into it, what books were being used, what was being taught,” English said, “is this a course based on the content and the character of our community and our kids and our understanding, and I knew that for sure, that we weren’t delineating kids one race or another … I’d be OK.”

Superintendent Daniel Gallagher said he knows there is concern about the curriculum straying away from its purpose and taking on more personal views.

“We’re not going to allow these courses to create an environment where kids do feel separated,” Gallagher said.

The district is expected to write the curriculum for the courses.

Gallagher said critical race theory, a philosophy some parents are concerned is being taught in schools already, legally can’t be a part of these courses.

“I know there’s concern about that creeping in,” Gallagher said. “Our job as professionals is to make sure what the state says we can teach, we’re teaching it.”

Trustee Melissa Myers, who also voted against the courses, said she, too, was concerned about division.

“I don’t see Native American studies,” Myers said. “I don’t see Asian American studies. Asian Americans have had some challenges this year as well.”

Gallagher said the state has only approved these two courses.

Mika said community members requested the courses be created. She said the district then put out a survey that revealed more than 50 percent of the student respondents would be interested in one or both courses.

“We try to respond to the community when they have a request, just like we would with any course,” Gallagher said, adding that it wouldn’t be appropriate to not explore the request.

Mika said the courses would have to cover the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) standards. In fact, she said these courses could fill in existing gaps.

Mika said there are 40 TEKS in the Mexican American studies that must be covered and 92 in the African American studies. She said it was discovered that in fourth grade through 11th-grade U.S. history only 52 percent of the TEKS in Mexican American studies were partially covered in those classes. In the African American studies course it was 46 percent.

Trustees who supported the courses said many of the questions will be answered as the process moves forward. Trustee Dan Blackwood reminded the board the books and curriculum would have to be approved by the board first.

“I personally see nothing wrong with approving the courses for future use,” Blackwood said. “But just because we approve it today doesn’t mean that we step back and have no future say in it.”

Later he said it came down to the freedom for students to take the courses they were interested in.

“I do not believe that anyone at this table has the right to tell any student in this district that they do not have the ability to study a certain subject,” Blackwood said.

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