desk stock file photo school

During a tour of the West Jefferson High School with coronavirus precautions it can be seen that each desk in the classroom has a grey or red sticker on the top corner in Harvey, La. Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020. Each period, students will be asked to alternate their use of desks and to clean them off after each class. The school is scheduled to open on August 26. (Photo by Max Becherer, NOLA.com, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

A state panel voted 19-1 to implement new social studies standards for public schools after a two-month delay sparked by complaints over how the nation's racial history would be taught.

The vote took place Saturday during a hearing that lasted about two hours, a sharp contrast to a noisy gathering July 26 that went on for five hours.

Only about half a dozen people testified Saturday, and no on charged that the standards would belittle the nation or inject critical race theory -- the view that racism played a huge role in the founding and development of the U. S. -- would be added to the curriculum.

The benchmarks will now be available for public comments through the state Department of Education.

State Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley said Monday he hopes the new guidelines can be submitted to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education for final approval in December.

Brumley said the current standards, which are four years overdue for an update, have several problems.

He said history is taught in a hopscotch way and the standards need more rigor.

"I am a former social studies teacher," Brumley said. "I have experienced social studies students coming to me and not being ready."

The recommendations spell out broad goals for students in grades K-2, 3-5, 6-8 and 9-12.

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For instance, eighth-graders are supposed to be able to describe connections between the Civil War and Reconstruction, how the Civil Rights movement fit into the period from 1877-1975 and to review the contributions of women, African Americans and Asian immigrants. But critics said it is not what is included in the standards but what is left out that is causing them concerns.

Woody Jenkins, the lone "no" vote on the steering committee, told the group the Acadians, African Americans and Italians all encountered challenges in Louisiana. "Everybody seems to think their group suffered the most so there is an emphasis on that," he said.

Jenkins also said former longtime Boston Mayor James Curley thrived politically by playing on Irish grievances. "It is not only that there has been discrimination and that there needs to be equality but we also need to let our young people know they can be used for political purposes," he said.

State Rep. Chuck Owen, R-Rosepine, a member of the House Education Committee who attended the July meeting, said Tuesday the standards have improved after going through multiple drafts.

"I think it has either gotten better or less bad, depending on what perspective you are coming from," Owen said.

"I would like more of a focus on the notion of individual liberty and Western Civilization and how we came to be a republic," he said. 

State Rep. Kathy Edmonston, R-Gonzales, a former member of BESE, said she has concerns about the recommended benchmarks.

Edmonston also said too few members of the public were allowed to testify before the final vote Saturday.

"What is good is now that the steering committee's work is done there will be a portal that people will be able to give input for the whole month until they get it where they want to approve it with the changes," she said.

The new standards stem from work done for months by work groups for elementary, middle and high school students.


Email Will Sentell at wsentell@theadvocate.com.