*Update October 3* As of September 30, Gov. Gavin Newsom has vetoed the Ethnic Studies bill due to criticism on the draft curriculum from Jewish groups saying that it’s antisemitic and politically biased. The CA Department of Education is working to revise the curriculum with additional materials and public comments. State Assemblymember Jose Medina, one of the main writers of the bill, hopes to reintroduce the bill to the Legislature in December.
CA State Assembly Bill 331 (AB 331), which mandates one semester of an Ethnic Studies course as a graduation requirement for CA high school students, passed the Senate floor on August 31 with an overwhelming majority. The bill, which would go into effect in the 2025-26 school year, is currently waiting to be signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom.
The model curriculum for the course ensures that Asian American, African American, Native American, and Latinx ethnicities are studied and encourages teachers to incorporate lessons that emphasize the history of ethnic groups in their own communities.
Multiple community stakeholder groups collaborated to push AB 331 through the Senate floor. In FUSD specifically, members of the student-led educational advocacy organization GENup worked closely with the legislative office of State Assemblymember Jose Medina and the California Department of Education to garner grassroots support for the bill.
“We were contacted by Medina’s office about a month and a half ago… and we worked with them to create this roadmap and engagement mobilization plan,” GENup Executive Director and Board Chair Senior Alvin Lee said.
Through phone banks, emails to senators, a petition with over 20,000 signatures, and an extensive social media campaign, GENup worked tirelessly to spread awareness and garner support for the bill.
Other major advocates for educational advocacy, including #DiversifyOurNarrative, a campaign founded by two Stanford students this past summer, and March For Our Lives California, a strong force on the legislative circuit, were key organizing partners of this campaign.
AB 331 was originally proposed by Medina as a follow-up to AB 2016, which laid out the guidelines to adopt, modify, or revise Ethnic Studies in curriculum, without mandating any changes.
To implement AB 331, FUSD will have to make several changes to the standard curriculum. For high schools in the district that already offer an Ethnic Studies course, the content provided will have to be audited to fit CA guidelines. Schools district-wide will have to adopt a new curriculum or modify the current course’s content to appropriately capture different cultural perspectives and give local ethnic groups proper representation.
The many challenges of adopting the best possible curriculum are at the forefront of educators’ minds. “What do we emphasize within the curriculum, and then what do we not emphasize as much?” Principal Jeff Evans said. “How much do we include and what does the community not want included, that’ll be another debate we’ll have to have.”
Creating a curriculum that fairly and accurately represents all ethnic groups in question will be an ongoing struggle. The draft has already received pushback from critics who believe the course materials will not be inclusive enough, while others think the class is too politically biased to be taught in public schools.
Students learn about racial and ethnic minorities in Ethnic Studies courses
Despite the criticisms, AB 331 is on its way to be signed by Newsom by the end of this month. In light of the recent demonstrations against police brutality and racial injustice, many supporters of the bill have argued that students need to have a better understanding of race. “I think any time we strive to understand one another better, we all grow,” FUSD Director of Curriculum & Instruction Kim Kelly said.
While many view the implementation of a required Ethnic Studies course as a big step forward towards more inclusive education, there is still more work to be done. “I encourage students, parents, and teachers to continue to reach out to one another with honest conversations. Apply or volunteer to be part of committees and task forces that are convened by the district. We need diverse voices to come together so we can address equity well,” Kelly said.