The State Board of Education officially approved the creation of a statewide Mexican-American studies course for high school students Friday.
Before the 15-member board unanimously approved the course, board member Ruben Cortez, D-Brownsville, tried to persuade the board to call the course “Mexican-American Studies,” but nine Republicans voted against the idea while all five Democrats voted for it; board Chairwoman Donna Bahorich, R-Houston, abstained from voting on the name. On Wednesday, a majority of the board approved naming the course “Ethnic Studies: An Overview of Americans of Mexican Descent,” which was proposed by one of the most conservative members of the board, David Bradley of Beaumont.
Some Democrats on the board reiterated Friday that not calling the course Mexican-American Studies foments divisiveness and does not accurately characterize the identities of Mexican-Americans.
“We’re all made of the same clay, not the same mold,” board member Marisa Perez-Diaz, D-Converse, said through tears. “My colleagues around this board room identified me. My identity is my own and I am to identify myself. We identified thousands of children across Texas today and took that power from them.”
Board member Marty Rowley, R-Amarillo, said he wanted to keep the new name because that was the intent of the majority of the board in Wednesday’s vote. He said the board can change the name depending on how the public responds between now and the board’s next meeting in June.
“I don’t feel that strongly about how we named that course. If we leave it in and it is an issue with people, I’m sure we’ll hear about it. I’m certainly open to input from my constituencies and others as to whether we should make that change,” Rowley said.
The board in June will give preliminary approval of the curriculum standards for the course, which will mirror a Mexican-American studies course the Houston school district has developed and used.
The decision on the course name notwithstanding, Cortez has said the board’s vote to move forward with creating a Mexican-American studies course should be considered a victory. The approval comes after a four-year push to create a curriculum that reflects the histories and experiences of Mexican-Americans.
Texas is one of two states that has approved a statewide Mexican-American studies course for public schools, according to scholars. Arizona has had such courses since the 1990s.
If the board gives final approval for the curriculum in September, the earliest the optional social studies course would go into effect would be the 2019-20 school year. School districts won’t be required to offer the course.
The board also voted Friday to consider creating courses in African-American studies, Latino studies, Native American studies and Asian-American studies.