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Pritzker signs Asian American history bill into law over opposition to curriculum mandates

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Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker addresses the media during a press briefing at the State Emergency Operations Center in Springfield, Ill., Monday, March 16, 2020. The state announced 12 new cases of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) across Illinois Monday. [Ted Schurter/The State Journal-Register] Ted Schurter/AP

Pritzker signs Asian American history bill into law over opposition to curriculum mandates

July 12, 06:00 PM July 12, 06:00 PM

Illinois is the first state in the country to mandate a unit of Asian American history to be taught in public schools.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed House Bill 376, the Teaching Equitable Asian American History or TEAACH Act, at Niles West High School in suburban Skokie.

Beginning with the 2022-2023 school year, every public elementary school and high school will be required to include a unit of instruction studying the events of Asian American history.

“We are setting a new standard for what it means to truly reckon with our history,” Pritzker said in a statement. “It’s a new standard that helps us understand one another, and ultimately, to move ourselves closer to the nation of our ideals.”

The legislation, introduced in January by Rep. Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz, D-Glenview, passed the House in April and the Senate in May.

“The lack of representation in curriculum in positions of power and in media leads to miseducation,” Gong-Gershowitz said. “That miseducation contributes to discrimination and violence towards Asian Americans.”

The bill specifies that the curriculum should include the contributions of Asian Americans toward advancing civil rights from the 19th century forward, and the contributions Asian Americans have made in government, arts humanities and sciences.

While the legislation specifies topics that should be addressed in the curriculum, the state will not require or designate a specific curriculum for school districts.

“We will be providing the framework, if you will, to identify key concepts that we want all of our children to learn about,” State Superintendent of Schools Carmen Ayala said.

State Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, voted in favor of the bill because of its flexibility to allow local districts to develop their own curriculum because he believes local school boards should be deciding what is best for their schools.

“One size does not fit all, and from the state side of things, each individual mandate if you will should be looked at and carefully considered,” said Brady.

Illinois has more than 850 school districts.

Pritzker signed the bill into law in the same school district where a teacher filed a suit claiming discrimination, saying its race-conscious training, policies and curriculum violate federal law.

Stacy Deemar, who is white, said in her complaint the district has used teacher training sessions to segregate and impugn white people, calling them racist and privileged, and has compelled teachers to pass those lessons to students.

The lawsuit is the latest push back against educational policies that address racism and inequity, often lumped under the label “critical race theory.”

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