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Newsom Warns Schools Not to Adopt Ethnic Studies Curriculum Pushing Bias, Bigotry, or Discrimination

“An attack on any of our communities is an attack on everything we stand for as Californians.”

California Governor Gavin Newsom (D) issued a letter on Wednesday warning schools not to adopt any ethnic studies curriculum that promotes “bias, bigotry or discrimination.”

The full letter, authored by Newsom Education Policy Adviser Brooks Allen, stated that the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum “is grounded in the foundational curricular areas of the ethnic studies tradition––African American Studies, Native American Studies, Asian/Pacific Islander American Studies, and Latinx American Studies. The focus on the experiences of these four disciplines provides an opportunity for students to learn of the histories, cultures, struggles, and contributions to American society of these historically marginalized peoples.” Additionally, the curriculum “includes lesson plans on many communities, including Filipino Americans, Jewish Americans, Arab Americans, Sikh Americans, Armenian Americans and others,” Allen wrote.

Allen, who is also the executive director of the State Board of Education, noted that under AB 101, schools will be required to offer a semester-long ethnic studies course to students in 9th-12th grade starting in the 2025-26 academic year and then such courses will be a graduation requirement in the 2029-30 academic year. But AB 101 also states that any ethnic studies curriculum adopted by schools cannot “reflect or promote, directly or indirectly, any bias, bigotry, or discrimination against any person or group of persons on the basis of any category.” “Vendors have begun promoting curriculum for [local education agencies] to use for ethnic studies courses. We have been advised, however, that some vendors are offering materials that may not meet the requirements of AB 101,” Allen wrote, arguing that was particularly true regarding the requirement that the curriculum can’t promote “bias, bigotry or discrimination.”

“Accordingly, before any curriculum or instructional materials for ethnic studies courses are selected, we strongly encourage you to closely scrutinize them to ensure that they meet the above requirements,” wrote Allen.

Jewish groups praised the letter. “We appreciate the commitment that Governor Newsom and the State Board of Education have shown to ensure fair and equitable treatment for Jewish—and all students—in our K-12 public schools,” Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) Bay Area said in a statement, adding that the letter came “after advocacy by a statewide Jewish coalition led by the Jewish Public Affairs Committee of California (JPAC) on the enforcement of important guardrails included in AB 101, which made ethnic studies a graduation requirement in California. Over the summer, leaders from JCRC Bay Area, JPAC [Jewish Public Affairs Committee of California], and our partners met with the Governor’s office to discuss how some districts, in their implementation of new ethnic studies curriculums, are working with independent contractors and organizations that promote bias against Jews, Judaism, and Israel.”

JPAC Executive Director David Bocarsly said in a statement, “We thank Governor Newsom and the State Board of Education for delivering yet again with this letter. The Governor has been a consistent ally to the Jewish community, particularly throughout the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (ESMC) development process. There is still a lot of work ahead to implement robust ethnic studies courses across California’s schools that are also free from antisemitism and anti-Zionism. This is a major step in the right direction, and we know the Governor will continue to work with us in this effort.”

Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Western Division Vice President Robert Trestan also said in a statement, “This is a welcome important first step and we will continue working with the Governor’s Office, Attorney General, and [the California Department of Education] to find remedies in ensuring that Districts develop a pedagogically sound Ethnic Studies course that is free of antisemitism and anti-Israel animus. ​We encourage districts to take the letter and guidance it provides seriously.​”

The American Jewish Committee (AJC) said in a statement, “The steps announced by Governor Newsom to tackle hate crimes are both welcome and needed, especially when bias attacks against religious and ethnic groups are increasing. AJC also supports the governor’s call for ethnic studies courses that are taught in a non-discriminatory fashion using the curriculum adopted by California in 2021 that focuses on the history, culture and many contributions of historically marginalized groups to the fabric of American society. We urge the state and local school districts to unequivocally reject Liberated Ethnic Studies instructional materials that are guided by political ideology rather than an historical foundation and are riddled with bias and antisemitism. They should have no place in California classrooms.”

StandWithUs CEO and Co-Founder Roz Rothstein said in a statement to the Journal, “We are grateful to the Governor’s office for reminding districts of their responsibility to keep bigotry out of the classroom. We hope this will be followed by additional efforts to prevent ethnic studies courses from being exploited by extremists who seek to institutionalize antisemitism and other forms of bias in California’s public education system. Additionally, we urge all schools to proactively teach their students about Jews, including their struggles and their contributions to American society. Ignorance is what allows hatred to spread, and the best antidote is more and better education.”

L. Rachel Lerman, vice chair and general counsel at the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, also said in a statement to the Journal, “Despite efforts by the Governor and California legislators, a handful of California school districts have begun including blatantly antisemitic materials in their ethnic studies’ curricula. This is incredibly dangerous, and we very much appreciate the Governor’s office stepping in here. We have been working with the Jewish community in many of these districts as well as alerting schools to the legal consequences of using such bigoted and illegal materials in the classroom, and we will continue to do so.”

AMCHA Initiative Director Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, on the other hand, argued in a statement to the Journal, “While we appreciate Governor Newsom’s letter, instead of dancing around it, he should explicitly acknowledge the elephant in the room: School districts are adopting anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist curricula and contracting with consultants who vehemently believe anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist sentiments are part and parcel of ethnic studies. Moreover, Governor Newsom leaves out the bill’s most explicit guardrail: Ethnic studies courses should not include portions of the initial draft curriculum rejected by the Instructional Quality Commission due to concerns of bias, bigotry, and discrimination. Governor Newsom’s letter serves to dilute, rather than reinforce, AB 101’s guardrails and will only confuse school districts about what, exactly, must be guarded against.” But, in Rossman-Benjamin’s view, the letter does have “one silver lining.” “The letter states the bill ‘anticipates … ethnic studies will be required,’ instead of saying it ‘mandates’ or ‘requires’ students take ethnic studies. This is important,” she said. “It suggests AB 101 may actually not yet be operative, since the bill itself stipulates it is ‘operative only upon an appropriation of funds by the Legislature,’ which has not yet happened. California legislators control the purse strings and they should refuse to appropriate any funds toward AB 101 until they can guarantee antisemitic curricula will not be brought into any classrooms.”

Allen’s letter was part of a series of actions taken by Newsom to combat hate, which also included sending $91.4 million in grants to 173 organizations to provide aid to survivors of hate as well implement measures to prevent acts of hate. Newsom also announced a “CA vs Hate” media campaign.

“An attack on any of our communities is an attack on everything we stand for as Californians,” Newsom said in a statement. “As hate-fueled rhetoric drives increasing acts of bigotry and violence, California is taking action to protect those who are targeted just for being who they are. We’re bolstering our support for victims and anti-hate programs and tackling ignorance and intolerance through education to prevent hate from taking hold in our communities.”


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