PolitiFact FL: Kamala Harris’ claims on Latino history bans relies on flawed examples

During a speech at a historically Black neighborhood in Jacksonville, Florida, Vice President Kamala Harris said that Florida’s new standards for teaching Black history are an effort to distort history for political ends.

“Think about in the past how we have seen attempts to minimize and even deny the Holocaust. Think about those who tried to rewrite the history of the Japanese internment camps, erase our nation’s dark and sordid history in how we have treated the Native people and, in particular, through educational systems,” Harris said July 21. “Those who have tried — and there are states where they have — to ban teaching Latino and Hispanic history.”

She added that “there are many aspects of our history that some would like to overlook, erase, or at least deny.”

READ MORE: Critics slam Florida’s Black history lesson on ‘benefit’ of slavery

Harris did not specify whether she was referring to K-12 education when she mentioned the Latino history ban, but the newly approved standards in Florida are for public K-12 education. (The added language about a “personal benefit” for slavery appeared in middle school standards for social studies.)

The United States has about 51 million students in K-12 public schools, and nearly 14 million are Latino, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

We wondered whether Harris’ claim about states trying to ban the teaching of Latino and Hispanic history was true.

A Harris spokesperson cited two examples:

  • A 2010 Arizona law that banned teaching ethnic studies at public schools. The law targeted a Mexican American Chicano studies class in the Tucson Unified School District.
  • A 2016 ban by the Texas State Board of Education of a Mexican American studies textbook.

The Texas example is flawed. The textbook ban wasn’t an attempt to prevent the teaching of Latino history; officials rejected the book because it had information deemed racist and inaccurate.

The Arizona law was not exclusively aimed at Latino or Hispanic studies, and was eventually overturned.

We did not find additional evidence of attempts to restrict Latino history.

Arizona law invalidated in 2017

In 2006, Chicano rights leader Dolores Huerta gave a speech that criticized Republican-led state immigration laws in an auditorium full of Tucson high school students. Tom Horne, then Arizona’s superintendent of public instruction, called Huerta’s remarks “hate speech” and launched a campaign to eliminate the Mexican American studies program at the Tucson Unified School District, The Washington Post reported.

In 2010, then-Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, signed a bill into law that banned teaching ethnic studies in public schools. This law applied to all ethnic studies, not just Latino or Hispanic history. But in 2017, a federal court overturned the ban, concluding that it violated students’ constitutional rights.

Arizona public schools can teach ethnic studies, including Latino and Hispanic history.

The Texas textbook was rejected over racist material

Harris’ spokesperson cited the Texas State Board of Education’s 2016 unanimous rejection of a controversial Mexican American studies textbook, “Mexican American Heritage.” But the rejection didn’t mean the removal of the book from students’ hands — it was never in classrooms.

The board rejected the book after Hispanic activists and scholars said it contained racist material, misused the term “Latin America” and had factual errors about Native Americans. The book made “racist assumptions about indigenous peoples being savage, uncivilized, and backward or behind Europeans,” said a report from a committee that reviewed the book.

Trinidad Gonzales, a South Texas College professor who was on that review committee, told PolitiFact that the book’s rejection had “nothing to do with banning a class, because a class didn’t exist yet.”

“We thought that if we had a book, creating a class would be easier,” she said.

Texas K-12 public schools can offer ethnic studies courses without an official course approval from the state. Juan Tejeda, a retired Mexican American studies professor, said that each school “has autonomy to teach these courses.”

The Texas State Board of Education has approved several ethnic studies classes, including some on Mexican American studies, African American studies, Asian studies and American Indian/Native studies.

What about other states?

Idaho, Iowa, Oklahoma and Tennessee passed bills in recent years limiting the teaching of racial equity and white privilege, and other states have proposed similar legislation. (White privilege is the societal advantage benefiting white people over nonwhite people by virtue of their race.)

Some of the bills mention “critical race theory” but don’t explicitly ban teaching Hispanic or Latino studies.

Critical race theory is a collection of ideas about systemic bias and privilege. It holds that racism is part of a broader pattern in America: It is woven into laws, and it shows up in who gets a job interview, the sort of home loans people are offered, how they are treated by police and other life facets large and small.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, in 2020 vetoed a bill that would have required public high school students to take ethnic studies, saying that the proposed curriculum needed revision. A year later, he signed a bill that met that goal.

Our ruling

Harris said some states have tried “to ban teaching Latino and Hispanic history.”

Harris’ spokesperson cited two examples — and one of them doesn’t back up her claim.

Although the Texas State Board of Education rejected a Mexican American studies textbook in 2016, it wasn’t because it was trying to prevent people from learning that history. The book was rejected because of factual errors and racist content.

A 2010 Arizona law banned all ethnic studies classes in public schools. The law originated from an effort to eliminate the Mexican American studies program at the Tucson Unified School District. In 2017, a federal court overturned it.

Some additional states have laws banning the teaching of critical race theory, and others have introduced similar proposals. But these bills don’t explicitly ban teaching Latino or Hispanic studies.

We rate this claim Mostly False.

PolitiFact Staff Writer Amy Sherman contributed to this report.

Our Sources

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