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‘We’re still here’: Native Americans push for native speaker electives in Texas high schools

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Native American advocates are hoping the Texas State Board of Education will approve a new American Indian/Native Studies elective for Texas high schoolers — but they are running out of time to get it into classrooms by next school year .

“I had two sons who attended public schools and I saw the lack of content taught to them in school,” said Hawana Townsley, Comanche Nation elder. “We’re still here, and that’s what we want to convey and convey to our state’s children through this course – the understanding that we are still here and have value.”

The course was designed with the involvement of dozens of Native nations and has received the support of major educational institutions and civil rights groups. Last year, the State Board of Education’s instructional committee voted to have the full board consider the course, but it has not yet been placed on a meeting agenda for consideration.

State Board of Education Chairman Aaron Kinsey refuted some advocates’ account that he had removed the course from the agenda. The item was never on the April agenda, he told Nexstar.

“I have worked with TEA staff to confirm that Native American Studies will be available as an innovative course for every public school system in Texas in the 2024-25 school year,” said Chairman Kinsey. “I appreciate the diversity of input I received on this course.”

Townsley believes the full board’s approval will give the course the momentum it needs to expand nationally. She fears Friday is the last day they can put the course on the board’s agenda if they have any hope of including it in the curriculum for next school year. They urge Kinsey to place the course for consideration on the next agenda.

“It’s a very tight schedule. “We’re trying not to rush, but we really want this to go through and be approved on first reading, comments and second reading,” she said.

Grand Prairie ISD was the first to pilot the course in the last two and a half years. The Texas Education Agency approved it as an “Innovative Course” in August 2023.

Robstown ISD and Crowley ISD have since adopted it, and Fort Worth ISD is in the process of offering it to students.

“We think it’s a wonderful opportunity for children,” said Annette Anderson of the Indigenous Institute of the Americas. “It is an important, very valuable and rich story of the Indian history of Texas and the United States.”

The board is scheduled to meet again on April 9th.

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