Portland Public Schools Board to Vote on Ethnic Studies in High Schools

APANO ALLY members preparing for a May 3 vote on ethnic studies in Portland Public Schools.
APANO ALLY members preparing for a May 3 vote on ethnic studies in Portland Public Schools.Courtesy of APANO ALLY

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By Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

UPDATE: The Portland Public Schools Board of Education's resolution on ethnic studies passed.

The Portland Public Schools Board of Education in Oregon is scheduled to vote Tuesday night on a resolution to implement at least one ethnic studies class in all Portland Public Schools high schools within two years.

The impetus for the resolution comes from a multiethnic and multiracial group of Oregon high school students who participate in Asian Pacific Islander Leaders for the Liberation of Youth (ALLY), the youth-led organizing arm of Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO).

“Personally I want ethnic studies because—and don’t get me wrong, I love US history,” APANO ALLY leader Jessica Yu told NBC News. “But the thing is that a lot of it is very European American focused, and sometimes as a person of color when you don’t see people in the textbook that reflect what you look like, you don’t always know that you can succeed.”

Students argue that a comprehensive ethnic studies program including content about Asian-, African-, Latino-, Pacific Islander-, Arab-, Native-, and LGBTQ-American communities, grounded in critical theory and histories of resistance, will help improve student grades, reduce absenteeism, and result in higher graduation rates for all students, especially as the demographics of the community become increasingly diverse.

According to Portland Public Schools, 10.3 percent of its students are African American, 7.3 percent are Asian American, 16.2 percent are Hispanic Americans, 0.9 percent are Native American or Alaskan Native, 8.9 percent are multiracial, 0.8 percent are Pacific Islander, and 55 percent are white.

“I'd love ethnic studies to be implemented all across the nation!” APANO ALLY leader Y.N. Le told NBC News. “I love learning about U.S. history, and about European history. I bet white students would feel the same about my history, if they had a chance to see it in action. If we, people of color, can see ourselves reflected in our textbooks, I can't imagine just how many people would jump in excitement to hear their own name.”

Students are optimistic about today’s vote, both in terms of it passing and what it can achieve.

“Ethnic Studies, in my highest hopes, will break the barrier between ethnic groups,” Le said.

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