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How to Implement the FAIR Act

created Jun 12, 2017 11:58 AM

by Beth Slutsky, Ph.D., Program Coordinator

Since January we’ve had the honor of traveling the state to introduce educators and administrators to the new HSS Framework.  Regardless of where we go, the FAIR Act is a topic that educators are seeking guidance on – especially the question: “What does it mean to implement the FAIR Act?” Or more to the point on the minds of administrators: “How do I know if my school – and my classrooms – are in compliance with the FAIR Act?”  This question seems to come from a place of genuine interest in teaching the state-adopted materials.  But it also seems to be rooted in an anxiety about protecting oneself from a parent or administrator that’s concerned about either too much or not enough coverage.  Last month a teacher approached a colleague to tell him that in his second year of teaching, he began to increase his coverage of LGBTQ topics in current and historical contexts because he was so moved by the Orlando nightclub shooting.  This emphasis did not sit well with others in his department and his school administration, and without the protections of tenure, he was told to either resign quietly, or that he would be terminated publicly, which would certainly impact his future job prospects.  So he resigned.  Thus, the crux of this question - what am I obligated to teach? - has left teachers vulnerable.  Given these genuine concerns, here is our effort at clarifying what it means to comply with the FAIR Act.

What does the FAIR Act say?

The Bill SB 48, otherwise known as the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, and Respectful (FAIR) Act, was signed into law in 2011 to take effect in 2012.  The bill revised the language in California’s Education Code (Section 41204.5) to address the course of study, classroom instruction, and instructional materials that relate to the contributions of various groups of people in the history of California and the United States.  This more inclusive orientation includes: “a study of the role and contributions of both men and women, Native Americans, African-Americans, Mexican Americans, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, European Americans, lesbian, gay bisexual, and transgender Americans, persons with disabilities, and members of other ethnic and cultural groups, to the economic, political, and social development of California and the United States of America, with particular emphasis on portraying the role of these groups in contemporary society.”[1]

In other words, as students are learning about diverse groups of people – people that have been marginalized in the K-12 historical narrative, – they should be learning about LGBT Americans and people with disabilities.  Although the FAIR Act became law in 2012, the state did not adopt the new HSS Framework until July, 2016.  The FAIR Act is incorporated in the Framework in many chapters, including in the grade-level chapters for grades two, four, five, eight, nine, eleven, and twelve.  Moreover, with the new HSS Framework comes new textbooks and related materials.  The State Board of Education is expected to adopt K-8 materials in the fall of 2017.  But, given that instructional materials that align with the new Framework have yet to be adopted, teachers and districts are currently stuck in the awkward position of deciding for themselves what implementing the FAIR Act means. 

What does it mean to implement the FAIR Act in my classroom?

According to the California Department of Education, teachers should teach about all of these groups, “but it is up to local districts to determine how the instructional content is included.”[2]  This message has understandably left teachers and their districts feeling a bit uncertain.  Students deserve an accurate and significant narrative of the past, but do teachers have the resources and support to teach that narrative?  With a mandate to incorporate the contributions of LGBTQ individuals and Americans with disabilities, but with the latitude to determine how to do this, teachers should first look to the Framework for guidance on how to implement the FAIR Act.  Here are some overarching principles that might help:

  • First, in elementary school, especially as students study local families and communities, students deserve to see themselves, their families, and their community represented.  For example, in second grade, as students learn about many different family structures – single-parent, adopted parent, grandparent-headed households - same-sex parents should of course be on the list. 
  • Second, when students learn about gender (whether it’s family structures in the colonies, marriage in the Early Republic, or childhood during Industrialization for example), an inclusion of LGBTQ individuals is absolutely appropriate.  Students will learn that just as race is an idea and an identity that changes meaning over time – the same concept should be applied to gender and sexual identity. 
  • Third, as students learn about civil rights or social protest movements, they should be learning about LGBTQ and disability history.  These connections come easily to students who already learn how movements for racial, ethnic, and gender equality emerged and built on one another in the twentieth century; layering in the role of LGBTQ individuals and Americans with disability is a necessary and natural connection.

What these three points begin to demonstrate is that rather than having the FAIR Act be a separate – discrete add-on kind of topic  – that the way to fully implement it is to fit it in alongside existing themes, questions, and topics.  This way when students study the role of immigration in the 19th and 20th centuries, for example, they learn about who immigrated, why they came, and how they were received by the courts, government, and population.  In studying these topics, students can focus on the significance of LGBTQ individuals and people with disabilities alongside learning about Asian immigrants, Catholic and Jewish immigrants, and Latin American immigrants among other topics.  Integrating these histories side-by-side will allow K-12 students to explore the complexity of the past, but also to learn how every person has a history and it is up to the teacher and the classroom to make meaningful connections about the past.  

How do I find materials to know that I’m complying with the FAIR Act?

Primary and secondary sources, as well as more fully-developed curriculum are widely available online, but locating the exact materials that will help teachers responsibly implement the FAIR Act can be trickier.  Here are a few resources that we recommend:

Attend a Workshop:

Obtain lessons and sources: