CPS to Offer Black History Curriculum This Fall

By Wendell Hutson on March 5, 2013 6:49am | Updated on March 5, 2013 8:49am

CHICAGO — Black history will be taught in all Chicago Public Schools next school year — and not just during February.

It's the outcome of a monthslong battle that a South Side community group has waged to bring CPS into compliance with a state law that mandates black history be taught in all public schools.

After months of trying to meet with the city's top educator, the community group, We Can Inc., met last week with CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett to discuss implementing the new curriculum in the fall.

"The meeting went well. She wants to be in compliance with the law, and I am encouraged by that," said Florence Cox, president of We Can Inc.

In 1991, a state law requiring all public schools to develop and implement a curriculum that includes black history was enacted. But CPS only teaches students about the history of African-Americans during Black History Month, which ends Feb. 28, Cox said.

"There is so much history about us that is not being shared with students at CPS. I cannot understand how it could have been allowed to go on this long," said Cox, who became the first black female president of the Chicago School Board in 1992. "I tried and tried to push this issue to the forefront when I served on the school board but was unsuccessful at getting other board members to get on board."

CPS spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler said the meeting was very productive and CPS has set a target of September to have the new curriculum in place.

"While we can't say why decisions were or were not made since passage of this state law 22 years ago, CEO Byrd-Bennett took prompt action once this was brought to her attention. She believes it's a very valid concern and should be available to children in every school," Ziegler said. "We expect that there will not be a need to file a lawsuit, as CPS is now complying with the law."

State Rep. Mary Flowers (D-Chicago) originally sponsored the bill and has urged We Can Inc. to file a suit to force the nation's third-largest school district to comply.

Ziegler said CPS will work with We Can Inc. for input on the curriculum, monitor the introduction of the curriculum to principals, promote the DuSable Museum of African American History as a resource for principals, and support recruiting retired CPS teachers to volunteer for reading initiatives and programs.

Byrd-Bennett will contact Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, regarding the effort, Ziegler said.

"It's only fair to give CPS an opportunity to do what it is they said they would do before taking any further action," said Cox, who will meet with her members Thursday.

Cox said it was her idea to recruit retired teachers for fear that current CPS teachers may not be up to par for teaching the new curriculum.

"We don't want anyone teaching our kids black history when they have a limited knowledge themselves," Cox said. "Face it: You have teachers who do not know anything about the person the school is named after, but work there every day. How crazy is that?"

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