California is a step closer to adopting a new history and social studies teaching framework aimed at reflecting the state's diverse student population.
The Instructional Quality Commission approved the document on Thursday after hours of public testimony. The issue now goes to the Board of Education, which has final say over new teaching guidelines for millions of students.
California has the largest K-12 population in the country, so changes in its textbooks often prompt revisions in other states. Nearly two-thirds of California's 6.2 million students are Latino or Asian, and many are from newly immigrated families.
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The path to a new framework, last overhauled in 2000, has been long and contentious, peppered with testimony from ethnic groups who want something different in how their people are presented in textbooks and discussed in classrooms.
"We do not consider diversity a hurdle. We do not consider diversity another problem to solve,'' said Thomas Adams, the commission's executive director, in opening remarks from the Sacramento, California, meeting.
"We consider it an asset,'' he said.
For higher grades, the new guidelines call for more details about Filipino contributions to the U.S. effort during World War II as well as a section about human trafficking focused on Asian "comfort women'' taken by the Japanese military to serve as sex slaves during World War II.
Cecilia Gaerlan, executive director of the Bataan Legacy Historical Society, has pushed since 2014 to include more details on the Bataan Death March in the Philippines in 1942, when 10,000 Filipinos and 750 Americans died on a forced 60-mile walk to prison. Her father survived the march.
She succeeded, although she is cautious about what happens next.
"I cannot take anything for granted," Gaerlan said.
She was among more than 200 people who signed up to testify on Thursday. Much of the three-hour public testimony came from people divided over the teaching of ancient India to 6th and 7th graders.
Some Hindu Americans protested the substitution of the words South Asia for India, arguing that such a move would erase their identity. Hinduism is the predominant religion in India.
But others said the region that now includes Pakistan and Nepal is much more diverse. They argued that referring to the region as ancient India would erase the broader history of South Asia, which includes people who are Muslim, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, and Sikh.
Commissioners on Thursday chose not to replace India with South Asia, but didn't approve all changes sought by one side or the other.
"I hope all of you know that you are an important ingredient to this conversation,'' said Lauryn Wild, the commission's chairwoman. "We want you to know you've been heard.''