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Fronteras: Ethnic Studies Classes Can Be Taught In Texas Schools. The Controversy Over Critical Race Theory May Complicate Things.

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B.K. Bruce Elementary School fourth graders receive instruction from their teacher during music class after the the school was closed for two weeks in the aftermath of tropical storm Harvey in Houston
CHRISTOPHER ALUKA BERRY/REUTERS
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B.K. Bruce Elementary School fourth graders receive instruction from their teacher during music class after the the school was closed for two weeks in the aftermath of tropical storm Harvey in Houston, Texas, U.S. September 12, 2017. The school reopened on Monday, September, 11, 2017. REUTERS/Chris Aluka Berry
Marisa B. Pérez-Díaz represents District 3 on the Texas State Board of Education. She is the youngest Latina, nationally, to have ever been elected to serve on a State Board of Education and is now serving her third term on the board.
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Marisa B. Pérez-Díaz represents District 3 on the Texas State Board of Education. She is the youngest Latina, nationally, to have ever been elected to serve on a State Board of Education and is now serving her third term on the board.

It’s been nearly three years since the Texas State Board of Education approved its first ethnic studies course, Mexican American Studies.

It was a long, rocky road for the approval of MAS, and its passage opened the door for other ethnic studies. The SBOE approved creation of an African American studies course in April 2020, which was modeled on a course developed in the Dallas Independent School District.

“Quite frankly, the (SBOE), I think over the years, we're nowhere near where we need to be,” said Marisa Pérez-Díaz, a member of the SBOE representing District 3, which includes several South Texas counties including Bexar and Hidalgo. “But we definitely made advances in representative education policy and in inclusivity.”

While the courses were praised by some scholars and activist groups such as the NAACP and the League of United Latin American Citizens, the country’s racial awakening following the 2020 death of George Floyd planted another hurdle in the education sphere.

Lawmakers in conservative states like Texas have proposed bills that would define how teachers can talk about current events and the country’s history of racism — recently identified as “critical race theory” by some — in the classroom. That Texas law goes into effect Sept. 1.

“Critical race theory is not a framework that is used in K-12 education. It's never been used in K-12 education,” Perez-Diaz said. “And I would venture to say that unless you're in a specific social justice-focused program at the higher ed level, you probably won't be exposed to it until you're in the graduate and advanced graduate level.”

She added that the unprecedented stress teachers are currently facing, prompted by the coronavirus pandemic, is now being coupled with the politicization of their jobs.

“(Teachers) want to teach what they know is true. They want to engage their diverse students,” Pérez-Díaz explained. “But there's also this underlying fear that if you do the right thing, the right thing means breaking the law. That is a sentiment that I'm feeling across the state.”

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Norma Martinez can be reached at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter at @NormDog1
Lauren Terrazas can be reached at lauren@tpr.org and on Twitter at @terrazas_lauren