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NAACP proposes mandatory ethnic studies in Seattle schools

caption: A panel at Garfield High School on Monday discusses the NAACP's proposal to require ethnic studies.
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A panel at Garfield High School on Monday discusses the NAACP's proposal to require ethnic studies.
Jamala Henderson

Seattle’s NAACP chapter and some Seattle educators want ethnic studies to become required learning in the city's public schools.

On Monday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, teachers, students and parents crowded into a medium-sized Garfield High School classroom to hear speakers talk about the proposal.

People who support the idea say ethnic studies could make school more relevant for students of color.

Rita Green is the education chair for the local NAACP and organized Monday’s session.

"Seattle Public Schools has made it a priority to address the institutional racism, make sure that we're having racial equity in the district,” Green said. “It's one thing to say it, right? And the district is good about saying things, but the truth is in the implementation that happens in the buildings."

Seattle Public Schools officials have yet to comment on the ethnic studies proposal.

Green said ethnic studies could be incorporated into existing classes and wouldn't cost schools more money.

Seattle Public Schools teacher Jon Greenberg said white students, and white teachers like him, would also benefit.

"We have white-washed history, it's why slavery is so often sanitized. It’s why we call invasion of indigenous lands 'westward expansion' or 'manifest destiny'," he said. "And so one of the benefits is white students, and other folks, would get more honest, inclusive history."

About 30 Seattle Public Schools currently have race and equity teaching teams, and the NAACP wants to require ethnic studies in those schools by 2018. By 2019, NAACP leaders would like to see ethnic studies required in all Seattle schools.

The group will present the idea to Seattle's school board next month.

Green said the eventual goal is a statewide requirement.

Some school districts in other cities, including Los Angeles and Portland, already require ethnic studies.

Jamala Henderson can be reached at Have a story idea? Use our story pitch form.

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