New Minnesota social studies standards, including ethnic studies, get judge's final OK

A teacher at a whiteboard in front of a room of students
Students listen as Rachel Nader works at the whiteboard during an ethnic studies class at Humboldt High School in St. Paul.
Ben Hovland | MPR News 2023

An administrative law judge on Thursday signed off on Minnesota’s plan to revamp state social studies standards in schools, including adding new language requiring ethnic studies.

Judge Eric Lipman had agreed to much of the plan two weeks ago but called for changes to the wording around ethnic studies that he said suggested “that each student must eliminate a historical and contemporary injustice to satisfy the academic standard.”

After the Education Department provided clarifying language, Chief Administrative Law Judge Jenny Starr approved it Thursday, allowing the entire package to be adopted for use in schools.

Minnesota updates its social studies standards every 10 years. The newly approved guidelines have been under discussion since 2020. They include requirements that students study economics, geography, citizenship, government, ethnic studies and the unique status of tribal nations.

The ethnic studies addition calls on students to analyze social identities of race, gender, religion, geography and ethnicity. It parallels a law passed last year that requires schools offer ethnic studies classes to students by 2026.

The new language in the ethnic studies component drew scrutiny from a conservative group that questioned the value and approach of what would be required statewide public school standards.

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