DENVER–The state Senate Education Committee passed a bill Thursday amending the curriculum requirements for civics and history education in Colorado.
House Bill 19-1192 expands civics and history education requirements of the “history, culture, and contributions of minorities” to add “Asian Americans, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals within these minority groups, and the intersectionality of significant social and cultural features within these communities, and the contribution and persecution of religious minorities.”
The “contribution and persecution of religious minorities” element was added by a House floor amendment sponsored by Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, D-Commerce City, on March 13 during second reading of the bill.
Passing a course on civil government of the United States and the state of Colorado is a condition of high school graduation in public schools.
The bill creates a 16-member “history, culture, social contributions, and civil government in education commission,” which would make recommendations to the state board of education every six years prior to the board’s regular 6-year review of education standards.
The commission must include persons from throughout the state as well as persons with disabilities and it must “reflect the ethnic diversity of the state.” A majority of the members must be either teachers or have “experience in developing education content standards.”
The Governor is required to appoint two members each from the American Indian, Latino, African American and Asian American communities, one member from the LGBTQ community, one member who is a licensed teacher, one member from “an organization that represents either school superintendents or local school boards,” and two members “representing higher education”; one from a large state institution and one from a smaller institution.
The Commissioner of Education must appoint two members from the department of education and either the president of the state historical society or his designee as non-voting members.
Members serve unpaid four-year terms with an allowance for expenses.
The commission must meet at least twice per year.
The bill has a safety clause claiming “this act is necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health and safety” that prevents the public from being able to petition for a referendum vote on the bill before it becomes law.
School districts are presently required to convene public forums to discuss the content standards in history and civil government every 10 years. The bill changes that to every 6 years.
Bill sponsor Rep. Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez, D-Denver, in her introductory comments said, “I really believe that you can be what you can see. Being able to see yourself in a history book is exceptionally validating.”
Gonzalez-Gutierrez said, “School districts can utilize the information compiled by the commission to update their curricula for their high school students.”
The bill directs those recommendations to the state board of education, and the commission is directed to “work cooperatively an in conjunction with” local school boards.
Under Colorado’s Constitution, individual school boards have exclusive authority to design and implement curricula.
During the public comment period speaker Jordan Anthony, youth program coordinator for One Colorado, a Denver-based non-profit LGBTQ advocacy organization said, “When the contributions of some communities aren’t included, we have to consider it the same as actively ignoring those very contributions. When we’re not pulling students in by not teaching them about themselves, we are pushing them out.”
Citing numerous studies claiming improved educational outcomes and up to a 12% increase in graduation rates resulting from including ethnic studies in school curricula, Dr. Ramon Del Castillo of the Metropolitan State University of Denver said, “Invisibility is being transformed into visibility.”
In response to Dr. Del Castillo’s comments, Sen. Jeff Bridges, D-Greenwood Village, said, “this seems to like one of the most obvious things we’ve ever seen in this committee, that not only do we create a broader education for everyone at the school, but we increase graduation rates more significantly than just about anything else we’ve ever tried and without spending a dollar to do it.”
Kirk Frye of Firestone, speaking during public comments said, “The school system I grew up in in the 1960s did not study someone’s accomplishments based on the criteria listed in this bill. It looked at the value of an accomplishment based solely on its impact on society. Perhaps another purpose of this bill is to make everyone that is on a current victim’s list feel special and good about themselves. That last purpose should be reserved for parents, family and friends and cannot be fixed by our school system.”
The bill passed on a 3-2 party-line vote and is headed to the Appropriations Committee.