October 2, 2020
On Wednesday, Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill that would have added an ethnic studies class requirement to graduate from high school in California.
AB 331 vetoed, AB 1460 approved
Assembly Bill 331, authored by Assemblyman Jose Medina (D-Riverside), would have added the new requirement starting in the 2025-2026 school year, with the 2030 class being the first to graduate with the requirement in place. All high schools in California, including charter schools and private schools, would have to adhere to the new policy and have all students graduate with a one-year ethnic studies course being completed.
The bill followed in the footsteps of AB 1460, a bill signed into law by Newsom in August that requires all CSU students to complete an ethnic studies course starting with the incoming class next year.
AB 331 had a particularly tough time in the Legislature, as many lawmakers questioned whether the class was even needed, expressed outrage over many ethnic groups seemingly excluded, and criticized that the bill had no real specifics on what the classes would actually entail.
Many Jewish and Catholic groups publicly opposed the bill due to a proposed ethnic studies class having Jewish and Irish American students write about how they have achieved “racial privilege” in the U.S., as well as not naming their groups as ethnic groups.
“The class is firmly rooted in Marxist ideologies that divide society into oppressed and oppressor groups based primarily on race and class, and, as part of its disciplinary mission, uses the classroom to indoctrinate students into narrow political beliefs and political activism,” the Jewish AMCHA initiative said last month in a letter to the Governor.
However, the bill had plenty of supporters in the aftermath of the George Floyd protests, when many Californians showed more sympathy for racial and social justice causes. The bill wound up winning handily in both the Assembly and Senate, and many expected that Governor Newsom would sign the bill by the end of September.
‘Insufficiently balanced and inclusive’
However, Governor Newsom noted that there is currently an “uncertainty” about current K-12 curriculum in the state and that AB 331 was “insufficiently balanced and inclusive” and would need heavy revision in order to receive his signature.
“I appreciate the amendments the author accepted to ensure that any ethnic studies coursework is free of bias and discrimination,” Governor Newsom said in his veto announcement. “I am also pleased that many more schools and districts have recently joined the hundreds of schools across our state that have adopted ethnic studies courses, and we intend to support these schools.”
“This bill, however, would require ethnic studies to be taught in high school at a time when there is much uncertainty about the appropriate K-12 model curriculum for ethnic studies. Last year I expressed concern that the initial draft of the model curriculum was insufficiently balanced and inclusive and needed to be substantially amended. In my opinion, the latest draft, which is currently out for review, still needs revision.”
Newsom’s veto was a disappointment to Assemblyman Medina and supporters of the bill on Thursday.
“The class is a way for us to teach others that history goes deeper for many ethnic groups in the U.S., and that discrimination and racial injustice has been continual,” Pilar Espinoza, a high school teacher in San Jose, told the Globe. “We can’t teach equality to everyone for an even longer time now.”
The bill’s author also released a statement.
“This is a missed opportunity and disservice to students,” Assemblyman Medina said on Thursday. “In order to build racial justice in this state and country, all of our students need to learn the real history of America — and that history includes the diverse experiences and perspectives of people of color.”
“I am committed to making ethnic studies a reality for all of California’s students and will be re-introducing this legislation next year.”
AB 331 opposition applauds Newsom’s veto
Those who opposed the bill approved of the Governor’s, noting that the bill needs to be revised to show how all ethnic groups in the U.S., regardless of race, faced discrimination.
“We are relieved Governor Newsom acknowledged the concerns that so many citizens across California have expressed about the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (ESMC),” StandWithUs CEO Roz Rothstein said in a statement. “The latest draft must be revised to accurately represent and include Jews, teach about antisemitism in all its forms, and remove guiding values and principles which will be used to justify bringing bias and hate into our classrooms.”
Many teachers also approved of the veto, citing similar concerns.
“Ethnic studies is important, but it needs to show everyone and the discrimination they faced,” private school teacher Marci Holmes said in a Globe interview. “What about all of those Irish and Italian need not apply signs? What about anti-Semitism in the U.S.? What about how the KKK also went after Catholics and Russians and LGBT people in the 50’s?”
“It’s a wide picture, and for it to be accurate it needs to go beyond race.”
AB 331 is expected to be amended in time for the next Legislative session early next year.
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