By Ellie Heffernan
The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools may create a mandatory Black history course for high school students.
District high schools already offer a Black history elective, but some officials say creating a mandatory course is necessary. A potential required course, however, wouldn’t go into effect until at least the 2022 to 2023 school year since approving any new course requirement is a complex process.
CHCCS Board of Education member Rani Dasi, who discussed creating the mandatory class during the board’s December meeting, said the elective is not offered every year because sometimes too few students sign up. Dasi, who identifies as Black, said making such a class mandatory would make history courses more inclusive and thorough.
“There’s been a lot of conversation about how history has been mistaught or undertaught,” Dasi said. “And part of the idea that the board is interested in is, ‘How do we help bring a more comprehensive understanding of history to our community and to our students?’”
For the elective to run, at least 15 students must sign up, said Jessica O’Donovan, assistant superintendent of instructional services. If the elective is not offered in-person, students can take it online through North Carolina Virtual Public School.
While a mandatory Black history course would be valuable, O’Donovan also emphasized the importance of also properly marketing the elective. Sometimes students are not aware it exists, she said.
“Any information that’s shared about the registration process, I think we need to just make sure that we are spotlighting that course to make sure that everybody is aware,” O’Donovan said. “You know sometimes if you don’t read through the whole course handbook, you might not see it.”
Dasi and other board members are interested in creating an initial proposal, which would be sent to the curriculum management team. This group, which consists of principals, teachers, staff members and sometimes students, assesses the potential for offering certain classes.
A proposal would include basic course objectives, an outline of the basic curriculum, materials being considered and financial and personnel impacts. O’Donovan said the mandatory course would take the place of an elective.
“So, this would be a fifth social studies class meaning that you’d have to double up one year,” O’Donovan said. “And so, it does have an implication. You lose another elective.”
Officials would also complete a Racial Equity Impact Assessment to map out the intended and unintended consequences of adding another mandatory course. For example, they would have to consider that adding another requirement could make it harder for some students to complete the credits needed to graduate.
The Curriculum Management Team could begin the approval process sometime this coming October.
Regardless of whether or not the course gets passed, the district and the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction value the addition of more racially inclusive themes in social studies, said O’Donovan. The NC DPI is currently working on its fourth draft of the revised American history standards, which will be implemented next year.
“It would certainly allow us to examine our textbooks, any other resources that we’re using, certainly topics that maybe we were covering, but not in as much depth as we should have,” O’Donovan said. “Sometimes we think that when we’re studying Black history, it’s just about slavery, and that’s such a deficit approach to the Black American experience. And so really making sure that excellence and achievement is also part of that curriculum.”
The board also could potentially create a course that covers a variety of marginalized historical perspectives, including Latinx and Native American history. It also could require students to take one course focused on these marginalized perspectives while providing multiple options.
Either way, the creation of a mandatory Black history course is still possible, and O’Donovan said such a class would help the district achieve its instructional goals.
“Our role as educators is to build criticality with intention,” O’Donovan said. “We have to make sure all of our students know how to navigate their world and the world at large being able to fully understand the structures around power and oppression and then how to actively work against them. And I think a course like this, if that was part of our intention in teaching this course, which I imagine it would be, it does align with our goal.”
Dasi said the mandatory Black history course could get approved if the idea receives increased support, which it already has from some teachers and other attendees at the December board meeting.
“I just think the importance of this is going to increase, these kinds of ideas and how we learn about other cultures, and how we change our perception of people because we have not fully learned American history,” Dasi said. “And so I’m hopeful that a lot of people are interested in this and we are able to get more support.”