House bill would add Asian-Americans to Colorado history and government lessons

American history and government lessons in Colorado schools would have to give students a better understanding of the culture and contributions of all Americans under a bill approved by the House Education Committee Tuesday.

House Bill 1192 adds the history and culture of Asian-Americans to the groups already required to be included in civics lessons: American Indians, Hispanic-Americans, and African-Americans.

A diverse set of students, teachers and academics, many of them from Denver’s South High School, championed the changes during a three-hour hearing.

“Representation is key in this world,” said Bernie Janelle, a South High special education teacher. “They have to see themselves in the curriculum.”

A new statewide advisory commission would be made up of a variety of ethnicities, people with disabilities and, as amended, LGBTQ people, with half the members having classroom experience. The commission would meet at least twice a year to make recommendations on inclusion in civics curriculum.

The Colorado State Board of Education updates its content standards every six years, but school districts have broad discretion to choose their own curriculum.

School districts also would be required to hold community forums on civics instruction every six years, instead of the current every 10 years.

“It’s important for all us to know that we all belong to a collective human story, that we’re all together in the same story,” said Esperanza Garcia, 17, a South High School senior and one of several students advocating for the changes. “It’s important for students to reclaim this identity and this knowledge that hasn’t been talked about.”

But Republicans questioned the need for the bill, and all five on the committee voted against it, with eight Democrats voting for it.

Rep. Jim Wilson, a Salida Republican, asked about the amendment to include a gay person on the commission, also approved in a party-line vote.

“I struggle with the makeup of this group anyway,” Wilson said. “Are we going to be coming back and adding another minority and another minority and another minority?”

Rep. Bri Buentello, a Pueblo Democrat and one of the bill sponsors, emphasized that commission members might represent more than one of the groups specified.

“The entire point of this commission is to bring as many voices as possible,” she  said.

The bill next goes to the House Appropriations Committee. A similar bill failed in the Republican-controlled Senate last year.