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Vice President Kamala Harris speaking in Boston on July 29, 2023. (AP) Vice President Kamala Harris speaking in Boston on July 29, 2023. (AP)

Vice President Kamala Harris speaking in Boston on July 29, 2023. (AP)

Marta Campabadal Graus
By Marta Campabadal Graus August 7, 2023

Kamala Harris claim about states banning teaching Latino history relies on some flawed examples

If Your Time is short

  • A 2010 Arizona law banned ethnic studies from being taught at public schools, but a federal court overturned it in 2017. 

  • The Texas State Board of Education in 2016 rejected a Mexican American studies textbook because it contained errors and racist content. 

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."

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.

Featured Fact-check

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

The White House, Remarks by Vice President Harris on the Florida State Board of Education Curriculum Updates, Jul. 21, 2023

Vox, Student activists want change — and they’re starting in the classroom, Jul. 29, 2020

Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy and UnidosUS, Analyzing Inclusion of Latino Contributions in U.S. History Curricula for High School, May 2023

YouGov, The Economist/YouGov Poll June 13 - 15, 2021 - 1500 U.S. Adult Citizens, June 2021

CBS News, Latino history largely ignored in U.S. high school textbooks, study finds, May 2023

CBS News, Map: See which states have passed critical race theory bills, June 17,  2021

Email interview with Xóchitl Bada, Associate Professor. Director of Graduate Studies, Latin American and Latino Studies Program, University of Illinois Chicago, Jul. 25, 2023

Email interview with Kathleen Lopez, Associate Professor in the Department of Latino and Caribbean Studies and the Department of History at Rutgers University, Jul. 27, 2023

Email interview with Ernesto Apreza, Deputy Press Secretary at the Office of the Vice President of the United States, Jul. 27, 2023

Zoom interview with Ashley Rogers Berner, Director at the Institute for Education Policy and Professor at Johns Hopkins University, Jul. 25, 2023

Arizona Legislature, Committee on appropriations, House of representatives amendments to S.B. 1108, accessed Jul. 21, 2023

American Civil Liberties Union, SB 1070 at the Supreme Court: What’s at stake, accessed Jul. 21, 2023

Mora, G.C., Vargas, N. & Cedillo, D. How many Latino studies programs are there? Tracking departmental growth, stagnation, and invisibility 1960–2020, Jul. 12, 2023

NBC News, Texas Rejects Mexican-American Studies Textbook Seen As Racist, Nov. 16, 2016

National Education Association, Ethnic Studies Classes Growing in Popularity, June 9, 2023

The Texas Tribune, Texas education board rejects Mexican-American studies textbook Nov. 16, 2016

State Board of Education Representative, District 2 Ad Hoc Committee Report on Proposed Social Studies Special Topic Textbook: Mexican American Heritage, September 6, 2016

Education Week, Texas Rejects Mexican-American Textbook But Will Consider Elective Course (Again), Nov.13, 2017

Texas Education Agency, SBOE approves ethnic studies course, April 13, 2018

Dallas Morning News, Texas board of education approves a Mexican-American studies course (but they won't call it that) April 11, 2018

Interview with Juan Tejeda, a retired Mexican American studies professor, said that each school, Jul. 28, 2023 

Interview with Trinidad Gonzalez, professor at South Texas College, Jul. 28, 2023 

Interview with a spokesperson of the Texas Department of Education, Jul. 28, 2023

Texas Education Agency, Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Social Studies Subchapter C. High School, accessed Jul. 21, 2023

National Center for Education Statistics, Enrollment and percentage distribution of enrollment in public elementary and secondary schools, by race/ethnicity and region: Selected years, fall 1995 through fall 2030,  accessed Jul. 21, 2023

The New York Times, All California Public High School Students Will Soon Have to Take Ethnic Studies, Oct. 14, 2021

The Washington Post, Arizona’s ban on Mexican American studies was racist, U.S. court rules, August 23, 2017

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Kamala Harris claim about states banning teaching Latino history relies on some flawed examples

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