Tony Thurmond.jpg

With concerns about inadequate curriculum, Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed legislation aiming to make ethnic studies a requirement for graduating high school — a decision educators expect will have limited impact locally.

Newsom shot down Assembly Bill 331 with a decision Wednesday, Sept. 30, which would have required high schools to offer ethnic studies starting in the 2025-26 school year and mandate students take one semester to graduate four years later.

Recognizing the value of ethnic studies courses, Newsom said in his veto message that he felt the proposed statewide curriculum is not ready for the classroom.

“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,” said Newsom.

He directed state Superintendent Tony Thurmond to work with other lawmakers and education officials to “ensure that the draft ethnic studies model curriculum achieves balances, fairness and is inclusive of all communities.”

The Jewish Community Relations Council lauded the decision — calling for greater consideration of the Jewish experience in the United States plus a meaningful definition of anti-Semitism.

Meanwhile the bill’s author Assemblyman Jose Medina, D-Riverside, said Newsom missed an opportunity to mandate more inclusive curriculum at a time when the nation most needs those lessons.

“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,” Medina said in a prepared statement.

Considering the curriculum an essential part of a balanced education, Shawnterra Moore, superintendent of the South San Francisco Unified School District, wished Newsom would soon sign the bill into law.

“We remain hopeful that once the draft curriculum is finalized, proponents of this course of study will prevail when the bill is reintroduced next year,” she said in an email.

Marc Friedman, president of the San Mateo Union High School District Board of Trustees, said he too valued the lessons offered in ethnic studies while supporting Newsom’s decision, recognizing concerns regarding the state curriculum’s unpreparedness.

More specifically though, he said the state decision will not affect district students because the school system already requires students to take ethnic studies courses before graduation. Additionally, he said the district crafted its own curriculum and would not have been subject to the state standard.

Friedman said school sites piloted the program initially and then worked with educators to develop a lesson plan that was ultimately adopted for the district.

The homegrown approach was key in helping the district avoid many of the state’s concerns regarding inclusivity or bias.

“We piloted it, we saw what worked and what didn’t, we took feedback from students and made it a mandated curriculum,” said Friedman.

The Sequoia Union High School District offers ethnic studies courses at some sites, but the curriculum is not mandated for graduation, said board President Allen Weiner.

Looking ahead though, Weiner anticipated the board would discuss establishing ethnic studies as a graduation requirement in the near future.

“There has been unanimous interest in considering this issue,” he said, noting trustees have not yet had an opportunity to extensively discuss the issue.

As the district considers the issue though, Weiner too noted that officials would work to refine local curriculum rather than take on the standards endorsed by the state.

For his part, Weiner said he favors establishing the class as part of the district’s graduation requirements — nodding to research showing ethnic studies courses can yield greater student engagement.

Recognizing the district’s looming achievement gap, Weiner said he believed the courses could help improve performance of all students.

“When people see themselves or people like them in their curriculum, that has a positive effect,” he said.

Weiner said his interest has been further amplified recently, as issues of social justice and race across the nation have raised questions about cultural awareness and education.

“I’ve been watching what is going on in our country and reflecting on what we learn and how our history and how our government classes are taught and how we maybe have not done a good job of making part of our education an awareness of race and ethnicity,” he said.

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