New Social Studies Requirements for Colorado Students

By Margaret Hunt

This school year, two landmark pieces of state legislation took effect in schools across Colorado. House Bill 19-1192 and House Bill 20-1336 were years in the making, and both affect social studies standards and graduation requirements for all Colorado students.

HB19-1192, which was co-sponsored during the 2019 state legislative session by Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez—a North Denver native, former state representative and current city councilwoman—ensures the inclusion of American minorities in the teaching of civil government. Community-initiated and introduced during a time of record diversity in the state House of Representatives, the intent of HB19-1192 was to guarantee students access to a social studies curriculum that reflects their cultural heritage and identities. 

The new standards play out across every grade level from kindergarten through 12th grade, but are most notable at the high school level. In Denver Public Schools, implementation of HB19-1192 has meant the creation of a new semester-long social studies course called Introduction to Ethnic Studies. 

While DPS already met the requirements of the bill through various elective offerings such as Ethnic and Gender Studies and Women in U.S. History, the district wanted to create a course that introduced students to an overview of all ethnic studies, in the hopes that it becomes a springboard for students to dive deeper. 

For Gonzales-Gutierrez, HB19-1192 became even more meaningful when her daughter took the course last semester at Denver North High School, Gonzales-Gutierrez’s own alma mater. 

“Denver has a history of students—including myself—fighting for their right to learn about their heritage, met with opposition at worst and mild acquiescence at best from administrations and teachers,” Gonzales-Gutierrez said. “This legislation guarantees students’ right to learn about their people.” 

HB20-1336 came on the heels of HB19-1192 and adds even more specificity to Colorado social studies standards. The legislation requires that “each school district board of education and charter school is to incorporate the standards on Holocaust and genocide studies adopted by the state board into an existing course that is currently a condition of high school graduation for school years beginning on or after July 1, 2023.” 

In short, every Colorado student is now required to learn about the Holocaust and genocide before they receive a diploma. These new standards apply to students in grades six through 12. Students are introduced to concepts related to genocide in grades six through eight, to support their study of genocide in later years.

For DPS, implementation of HB20-1336 started with a committee of teachers, administrators and students working with a curriculum developer to create a separate semester-long high school course called The History of Power, Conflict, and Healing. 

As Alica Saxe, head of that committee said, “the goal of the course is to emphasize that we study genocide because we value humanity and want to protect human rights for all people.” 

“By learning about the Holocaust and other genocides,” Saxe added, “the intent is for students to learn empathy and gain historical literacy, not glorify people’s pain.” The course focuses heavily on the reliability of sources, digital literacy and fact-checking. 

Curious to learn more? The CDE (Colorado Department of Education) has comprehensive guides about these new standards on their website. Or, connect with Denver Public Schools and Denver North High School on social media to see the memorials Denver North students created as a culmination of their learning from The History of Power, Conflict, and Healing.

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