By Washington LYAC – Micah Fitzgerald, Hiro Hirano-Holcomb, Natasha Kalombo, Stacy Osoria, and Shreya Shaji
This year, the Washington Legislative Youth Advisory Council (LYAC) is proud to introduce an important education bill into session: Senate Bill 5441. This bill implements inclusive education for students written by students of the LYAC.
(Note: Although SB 5441 did not advance in the 2023 Legislative Session, key elements of it were amended into Senate Bill 5462)
The Legislative Youth Advisory Council (LYAC) is a group composed of 24 geographically, ideologically, and socioeconomically diverse students aged 14-18. We are the first official nonpartisan voice of youth in the Washington state Legislature and work under the Lieutenant Governor’s office. Our goal is to improve the quality of life for youth all over Washington state by making sure their voices and opinions are heard in the Legislature.
The whole idea behind writing this bill was that education inherently should be something that is inclusive and has diverse perspectives and histories interwoven into the fabric of curriculums.
With that objective in mind, along with the feedback received from legislators, local students, and school staff across Washington, the bill centers on increasing resources statewide and on the district level for inclusive and diverse curriculums, as well as how to teach them.
One way this bill does so is by increasing youth voice in creating the curriculums that they learn. This bill would have the Washington state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) create a database of resources for inclusive and diverse curriculums including books, movies, lesson plans, and poems. SB 5441 would also create the regional/district level position of an Inclusive Curriculums Coordinator that would connect students and staff to the statewide resources along with working with local leaders and nonprofits to support teachers as they learn how to teach new curriculums. We recognize that multiple organizations in Washington have already developed materials, and we resonate with this work and hope to incorporate it in the future.
This bill also has the goal of increasing youth voice in the curriculums that we learn by having districts and regions involve youth advisory councils to work closely with the Inclusive Curriculums Coordinators.
The process of writing SB 5441 was incredibly collaborative from its inception to its current place in the legislative process. Not one decision or change has/will be made to the bill without the consultation and approval of our peers, and we are incredibly grateful to be in the position to have a voice that is listened to on what directly happens to the bill.
When we started writing the bill, our main goal was to increase a diverse curriculum for all students in Washington state. However, once we delved into the research and actual implementation of bills similar to our own across the nation, the realization that there was little to no accountability for these changes in curriculum was evident. In this, we decided that a focus of our bill would not only be the actual curriculum resources of inclusive, diverse, and equitable education, but the accountability on districts and teachers to actually be using these resources from none other than those who it would affect the most – youth.
Utilizing LYAC’s experience, we broke up a traditional bill into different parts and wrote as we saw fit. We are extremely grateful for the input we received from a multitude of resources. Not only were we able to gain knowledge on the personal experiences of our youth across the state, but from offices like OSPI, legislators like Senator Claire Wilson, and experts in this field such as Tracy Castro-Gill, Executive Director of Washington Ethnic Studies Now.
Excited by the possibilities of the finished bill, we began discussing it in our communities and the response was overwhelmingly positive. Although some may claim that inclusive education has the ability to create divides, what we saw was our community coming together. Students expressed sentiments of excitement at the prospects and opportunities that inclusive education would give them. One common theme that we saw in ourselves and others was that when we see people with whom we share lived experiences thriving in our education, we thrive as well. The way students achieve their goals is by being inspired by role models who they relate to. For education to serve this mission for all students, our peers believe that the diversity of these role models must be increased.
We were also excited to hear education stakeholders who are not students express their support for a more inclusive education. More and more, we are seeing efforts being made to implement inclusive education programs in our districts. We have found allies in organizations such as the Washington Education Association (WEA), OSPI, and influential figures in equity and racial issues like Erin Jones. These influential figures agree that SB 5441 brings about important change in the way students are empowered by their education.
When we found out that SB 5441 would be on the floor while we were at the capitol for LYAC’s lobbying day, all of us immediately began to experience a rush of relief and excitement. For starters, we all live in different parts of Washington and didn’t think that we would be able to go and testify together. Secondly, it was like reality set in. What was once just a Google Doc with a few sentences was now an official bill being heard before the Senate Committee on Early Learning & K-12 Education. We all worked very hard to get the bill where it is today and are so excited to see where it goes. Testifying and being able to hear other testimonies in front of the committee was a roller coaster of different emotions. It felt empowering – we were not only sharing our stories but also representing the people of color and of different genders who weren’t there to tell their own. Even hearing the testimonies against us made us have more respect for the democratic process this bill was undertaking. We all knew this bill would receive backlash, but when Senator Claire Wilson, Committee Chair Senator Lisa Wellman, Erin Jones, the WEA, OSPI, and many other representatives and important figures in the community are behind our backs supporting us, our conviction only increased.
In terms of future steps for SB 5441, we have a lot of hopes. First, we want to work with the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) Ethnic Studies Task Force to help improve the bill and its implementation. We believe this will help with the logistics and ease of the process. Another thing we’re hoping to do is increase pedagogy training for teachers so they know how to most effectively teach this new curriculum. You can write anything into law, but in order for it to enact actual change, you have to make sure implementers (teachers in this case) are representing it correctly. We are hoping that with these changes and improvements, SB 5441 will be the best it can be and youth all over Washington will be able to experience its effects.
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