The Proviso Township High Schools District 209 school board is expected to vote tonight on a proposal to add Black history as a required course for graduation from D209 schools.

The measure has been under consideration by the board and administration since the 2019-20 school year.

Last year, the Illinois General Assembly passed HB 4346, which requires that Black history be taught in every public elementary and high school in the state. The law also requires all students to study the material before graduating high school.

Back then, there was a debate between D209 board members and administrators about how to interpret the law and the feasibility of creating a separate Black history course.

According to previous Forest Park Review reporting, Dr. Nicole Howard, D209’s assistant superintendent for Academics, Student and Family Services, said the law, while requiring students to study Black history, doesn’t necessarily mean that the district has to make it a separate unit of study.

She added at the time that “Proviso East already has an elective course on Black history available to students; and the teaching of the African-American experience already takes place in units taught in American History, civics and literature,” according to the Forest Park Review.

In addition, Howard explained, “There are also events and initiatives related to African-American and Latinx history that supplement what’s offered in the classroom.”

Former D209 Supt. Jesse Rodriguez said at the time that it would be cost-prohibitive to implement the Black history course and would require hiring additional employees in order to incorporate it fully into the curriculum as a graduation requirement.

In an interview conducted with the Village Free Press last year, before he left the district, Rodriguez said one of his primary concerns was that the board would veer from the carefully constructed five-year financial plan he implemented and pursue projects, such as adding a separate Black history course, which might put the district on a path toward deficit spending.

District 209 Board President Rodney Alexander said last year that he believes the state law requires schools to teach Black history as a separate unit of study, apart from other kinds of history.

In a recent board memo, D209 officials explained that “while the current curriculum is compliant in its coverage of the required Black history content, it may not be sufficient in promoting a deeper understanding of the contributions of African Americans and their collective struggle in striving for fair and equal treatment.”

Officials said the district’s current African-American history course “will be re-designed and offered at all three schools” during and outside the regular school day, during the summer program, and as a live online course during the evening. Those options were put forth, in order to make the course available to all students, officials said.

“Students will be able to choose the option that best fits their schedule and graduation goals,” they added.

The district will have to hire three more teachers at an estimated $240,000 a year and buy $60,000 worth of new textbooks, with total anticipated costs of the new course at $300,000 during the first year of implementation.

If the board approves the proposed Black history course, officials anticipate launching the course in the summer of 2021, with full implementation set to start in August 2021. The graduation requirement would apply to the class of 2022 and beyond.