California students will have to take ethnic studies to get a diploma

Gov. Gavin Newsom addresses students in seventh grade science class in San Francisco. Jeff Chiu/AP Photo California students will have to take ethnic studies to get a diploma
SACRAMENTO California's bill Gov. Gavin Newsom will require high school students to take an ethnic studies course in order to graduate from high schools. It was signed Friday by Gavin Newsom, and is believed to be the first to require such courses.

After a year where activists and leaders in California focused more on racial injustice following the May 2020 Minneapolis police shooting of George Floyd, the new law is now in effect. The new law comes at a time when conservatives across the country have protested against K-12 lessons on systemic racist and called for an end to "critical race theory" at school board meetings.

The courses required for high school graduation won't be offered to high school students until 2029. Schools will have to offer ethnic studies courses beginning in 2025. This gives districts and education officials ample time to develop their curriculum. There has been intense debate about the curriculum as concerns have been raised by some ethnic groups about how their history will taught.

Friday's statement by Newsom's office cited research from Stanford University showing that ethnic studies "help increase educational opportunities in schools and teach students about diverse communities that make up California, as well as boost academic engagement, attainment, and attainment."

It took the state several years to create a model curriculum for ethnic study. This was criticized by the Legislative Jewish Caucus which stated that the first draft did not include their entire history. Assembly Bill 101 will allow schools to develop their own plans locally.

The bill requires districts to review the "lengthy and thorough, deliberative, inclusive process" that the State Board of Education initiated to establish a curriculum framework. However, the bill allows schools to design their own plans if they are approved by a local school board, subject to public hearings.

The state's ethnic studies framework was approved by the legislature in March. It promotes a social consciousness, and addresses institutionalized systems and forms of prejudice, including anti-Blackness and anti-Semitism.

Assemblymember Jose Medina (D-Riverside), the bill's author has repeatedly advocated for ethnic studies legislation, but to no avail. Newsom vetoed an identical bill last year. He stated that while he supported the mission, he was concerned that the curriculum did not adequately reflect the concerns of Jewish and Arab American groups.

Former Governor Jerry Brown, a former governor, vetoed a 2018 attempt to do so. He stated that although he was supportive of ethnic studies schools can offer it without requiring governmental mandates.

This delay is due to the political and logistical challenges involved in creating the curriculum and mandating that it be implemented for graduation. Newsom officials stated that the bill provides "a number of safeguards" to ensure that courses are free from bias and bigotry, and suitable for all students.

Medina released a statement acknowledging the many young people, college and high school students, teachers, and professors who organized, protested, boycotted classes and went on hunger strikes to demand an equitable and inclusive education system. "The signing today of AB 101 is just one step in the long fight for equal education for all students.


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