Lafayette Parish residents seek more classroom materials on ethnic studies _lowres

Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- Lafayette Parish School Board Member Shelton Cobb, center, addresses the audience during the first of three school board candidate forums in this September 2014 Advocate file photo.

Sometime early next year, a task force will explore ways to ensure the various cultures in Lafayette Parish are reflected in the materials students use in the classroom.

Last month, the Lafayette Parish School Board proposed a diversity and ethnic studies task force to discuss diversity issues within the school system.

Board member Shelton Cobb said he pitched the task force in November in response to some residents faulting the school system for not including more culturally diverse instructional materials or programs.

“There were those people in the community who were saying they don’t have enough ethnic studies in the community schools,” Cobb said. “The minority community is getting larger and larger in Lafayette Parish. It’s not always essentially black.”

Cobb said he thinks the task force’s work should extend beyond the classroom to ensure the school system fosters an inclusive environment in the community.

The school system offers specialized programs in foreign languages that give students the option of immersive learning in Mandarin, Spanish and French.

Cobb said some residents want more options for students.

In 2012, task force groups were organized to help create recommendations and goals for different areas within the school system, from specific academic programs to facilities. The work was incorporated in the school district’s 100 Percent In, 100 Percent Out plan, touted by then-Superintendent Pat Cooper as a way to boost student performance.

The task force groups were made up of school system employees and residents.

Cobb, whose term on the board ends this month, said he’d like to see the new board carry through with the task force and include members from various cultural organizations.

Cobb said the diversity task force grew out of concerns from the black community about the lack of an African cultural view in textbooks and the absence of an African studies or history program in the schools.

Attorney John Milton is one of the residents who met with school district officials to try to spur more Africa-centered educational materials.

“The American educational system is based on the European worldview, yet people of African descent and people who carry with them and maintain their cultural heritage are not subjected to their own worldview when they are taught,” Milton said.

Milton said he’d prefer the School Board to have a separate task force that looks at issues affecting the school district’s black children.

“We need to consider what are the best methods of teaching children that are culturally relevant and have the Lafayette Parish School Board consider the possibility that they may need to bring in experts to understand those concepts,” Milton said.

The creation of the task force will come sometime early next year once the new board gets settled, Assistant Superintendent Sandra Billeaudeau said. In the past few weeks, the focus has been on potential staffing changes related to the 2014-15 budget.

Billeaudeau said the task force work could get underway after the holiday break, following discussions with the new board and interim Superintendent Burnell LeJeune.

“When we get out of the gate with the new board, we’ll bring this to their attention,” Billeaudeau said. “They may have some community members that they want as part of this task force. Then we’ll start identifying goals and our specific objectives with this task force and what we want to see.

“There’s a lot of groundwork that still needs to be done to bring the idea to fruition.”

Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.