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Portland, Ore., Students Push for Ethnic Studies in High Schools

A group of 30 students in Portland, Ore., is pushing for the city's school district to introduce ethnic studies courses in its high schools.

The students argue that focusing on the experiences and history of people of color in school could lead students to feel more engaged and invested in school, The Oregonian reports. The campaign is called "Missing Pages of Our History."

Last year, about 46 percent of the district's students identified as a race other than white. But just one of the district's nine high schools has an ethnic studies course, and students said the majority of content covered in history classes focuses on white figures. 

The Oregonian describes how a group of students at Franklin High School who met at the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon began reaching out to school board members and district officials to advocate for the new requirement. At least two of the district's seven board members are supportive of students' efforts and say the district might create the course as soon as next year.

Oregon's state legislature passed a law in 2013 that directs the state's education department to develop content standards and prepare materials to support teachers in teaching about diverse cultures. The Oregonian reports that that work is still "in early stages."

The students aren't alone in trying to raise Portland's awareness of the needs of students of color. A group of African-American teens from the city recently discussed high rates of incarceration and homicide among African-American males at a panel hosted by the National League of Cities.

But the students may face a rocky road: Mandates and bans around ethnic studies courses are often controversial. In California, Gov. Jerry Brown recently vetoed a proposal that would have required ethnic studies courses across the state, but the Los Angeles and San Francisco school districts have taken it upon themselves to offer such courses. And in Tucson, Ariz., a law that prohibits districts from teaching ethnic studies courses is facing a legal challenge.

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