Earlier this month, California became the first state in the nation to approve of LGBT-inclusive instructional materials for students at the elementary and middle school levels.
The California State Board of Education voted to approve a total of 10 textbooks that “give students broader, deeper and more accurate understanding of history and social sciences” and aim to provide fair representations of people with disabilities and people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
“They update the teaching and learning of history and social science and convey important new information about the challenges and contributions made by individuals and ethnic groups, members of the LGBT communities and people with disabilities,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said in a statement. “They recognize some individuals and groups who may not have been fully included in the past.”
Districts, like those in the Santa Clarita Valley, are able to purchase the textbooks approved by the board, or different textbooks if they teach the content standards and reflect the state’s curriculum framework.
It is unknown whether local district plan to take the former or the latter approach to implementation of the new curriculum and instructional materials.
“I’m generally supportive of inclusive materials, but I think it’s important that every district reviews them with their parent community,” said Christy Smith, president of the Newhall School District governing board. “I haven’t had a chance to review them yet, but I look forward to it.”
Local school district officials who spoke to The Signal said they would review the textbooks during the current academic year and determine which ones are the best fit for their districts after discussing options in committees, piloting new textbooks and seeking governing board approvals.
“Now that the state has approved them, we have to hold an Adoption Committee where teachers and administrators would review the history, social science framework and then look at each of the textbooks that have been approved for K-6,” said Kathy Harris, assistant superintendent of instructional services in the Sulphur Springs School District. “Then we would decide on two or three of those books to pilot and then get input from all teachers and parents.”
In the Newhall School District, officials in the instructional department are expected to review the new materials in later years.
“Most recently, we have done new textbook adoption for both our math and English language arts curriculum so social studies adoption is something we wouldn’t be looking at for a while,” Smith said. “Our standard practice would be to have our instruction department review new materials… and make a presentation and recommendation to the board.”
The same is true for the William S. Hart Union High School District, which would see the instructional materials change for history and social sciences at the junior high school level.
“As a school district we are going to look, beginning next year, for a new book that would be put into place in our schools in the fall of 2019,” said Dave Caldwell, public relations officer for the Hart District. “We’re going to be putting together a committee next year to determine what we need and what textbooks follow that standard and present those recommendations to the board.”
The approval comes six years after the California legislature established the FAIR Education Act, which required school textbooks to include information about the various contributions different groups—like ethnic minorities, people with disabilities and people who are LGBT—made in California and the United States.
“I’m glad that we finally have the ball rolling, and that we’re going to start having physical copies of things into the hands of our students,” said Andrew Taban, a Parents and Friends of Lesbians And Gays, or PFLAG, SCV chapter, board member and president of the Young Democrats. “Our students who are now looking in our history books, our social science books can now see ‘There is a chance for me to make a difference in the world,’ and ‘I can be something.’”
These textbooks provide information in age-appropriate ways and teach children how to use critical thinking and research skills to make up their minds about controversial issues, according to the state’s Board of Education.
With this new focus, students will be given a more complete picture of the accomplishments and challenges faced by LGBT individuals like astronaut Sally Ride and comedian Ellen DeGeneres.
The new texts also include more expansive coverage of the farm labor movement, such as the role of Filipinos and Civil Rights Leader Larry Itliong. Also added to the curriculum is information on the Mexican Repatriation Program; details on the institution of slavery as a legal institution and a violation of human rights; and an additional perspective of the plight of Native Americans in California’s missions, according to state officials.
The textbooks will also focus on the importance of civic engagement and emphasize the diverse, multicultural heritage of the United States as a “place of promise for all people, especially immigrants.”
Taban, in his capacity as a PFLAG SCV Board member, said he plans to work with Hart District Superintendent Vicki Engbrecht to discuss the new textbooks the district chooses to implement.
“I know that we have discussed that we are going to be looking through the curriculum that the district approves… When they get them [the textbooks], her and I will look through them together,” Taban said. “I personally think this benefits our economy, our education, our government. It opens the door to so many opportunities.”
Although districts are still uncertain of which textbooks they will be implementing in classroom, they all emphasized their intent to follow state standards and district procedures to get the adequate instructional materials in each student’s classroom.
“We always endeavor to follow state law to give our kids the best education we can possibly give them,” said Joe Messina, president of the Hart District Governing Board.
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