Board Approves State Letter on Ethnic Studies, Pushes Further

Community groups have been pushing for changes to the district’s ethnic studies policies for the last few months.  On Thursday, the school board unanimously approved a letter being sent to Senator Connie Leyva, Chair of the Senate Education Committee, along with Assemblymember Jose Medina, the bill’s author in support of ethnic studies.

AB 331 would add a course of ethnic studies to be a high school graduation requirement, beginning the school year of 2023-24.

The letter notes: “California’s diversity is an asset, and students should build their knowledge of the various diverse groups that have contributed to the state’s prosperity and well-being. Incorporating ethnic studies courses into standard high school curricula and making it a graduation requirement promotes respect and understanding, supports student success and teaches critical thinking skills.”

The agendized item also gave board members a chance to speak and make their views on this subject known to the public – as for the most part the conversation had previously occurred during public comment, where the board members really could not respond.

Superintendent John Bowes, during his own superintendent comments, noted, “Ethnic studies provides students with the opportunity to learn about the respective cultures and ethnicities in the context of the history of California, the United States and the world.”

He continued, “While the District’s history-social science curriculum already includes a multicultural education component which is designed to teach students to respect and appreciate cultural diversity and different points of view, ethnic studies will further develop students’ understanding of commonalities, conflicts, and injustices that form the collective experiences of people from various cultural, ethnic, gender, racial, religious, and social groups.”

He noted that the district is waiting on the curriculum from the state, which will be out for public comment in September.  After revisions are submitted, it could be adopted by the state board of education in January.

Board member Alan Fernandes thanked members of the community for speaking out on this issue.

“This is the first opportunity because of the advocacy we’ve experienced, this is the first opportunity that we’ve actually had something on our agenda,” he said.  “I just want everyone to know that… we have been listening very intently to the movement that you all have started.

“If we weren’t sitting here, we’d be right in line with you asking for the same thing,” Mr. Fernandes said.

He told the public that the silence when speakers have come up does not mean they do not support changes to the ethnic studies curriculum in the district.

“Maybe even more than what we’ve heard from you,” he added.  “I want to assure those who have been dogged in their advocacy, that this (the letter) isn’t the only thing we’re doing on this.

“I am in full support of virtually everything I’ve heard,” he continued.  “There are elements of ethnic studies we’ve folded into the LCAP.”

He told the public that they will place ethnic studies specifically on the calendar.

Alan Fernandes also indicated that, while the state is doing a process, the board and district will likely go further than the state’s requirements.

“Please do not mistake the fact that, while we understand that the state is going through a process, we will not rest on whatever the state does,” he said.

Certainly, he said they would support that and comply with it.  However, he expects to go further.

“There may be more that we want to do in our community, than what the state’s recommended curriculum is,” Mr. Fernandes added.  “It could be and maybe should be broader than that.”

Tom Adams pointed out that the board also passed a climate action resolution and that, while most people do not see those things as related, “We do know that environmental justice is key in this discussion because we know the people most affected by adverse environmental practices are often the people who bring us our food, who do many of the jobs that we underpay in this state and who aren’t always appreciated for their cultural and economic contributions.”

He said, “When it comes to it, we’re going to be an innovator in this area.”

“The idea,” he said, “is not to create a bunch of silos but to actually put social justice forward and show the impact of these things.  That’s what we’re about.  It’s not a coincidence that our first course in this district is Race and Social Justice.

Bob Poppenga said “it’s not a matter of if” we do this, but when and how we do it.

“I also think the environmental climate change issue is one of the biggest ones we face right now and it’s really the young people that are leading the charge on that,” he said.  “I view this resolution as a start, it’s not an end.”

As the letter says: “AB 331 will help us build on existing courses and/or develop new courses, as well as integrate ethnic studies across the curriculum. As ethnic studies seek to engage students in school and in their learning, we believe this will help close the achievement gap by reducing student absenteeism, improving student graduation rates, and better preparing Californian youth to be college, career, and civic ready.”

The indication from the board is that, in addition to that framework, the district intends to go above and beyond it.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Alan Miller

    AB 331 would add a course of ethnic studies to be a high school graduation requirement . . .

    Incorporating ethnic studies courses into standard high school curricula and making it a graduation requirement

    OK, still not clear here.  Sounds like they are backing the state law requiring a “course” in ethnic studies . . . that’s an add on, and a graduation requirement.  But also say “incorporating . . . into standard . . . curricula”.

    Which is it?  These are not the same thing.  The fact that it later says their “first course” is “race and social justice” sounds like an add-on course, and from it’s title may be a bit left-leaning politically, perhaps, hmmmm . . . . . eh . . .

    1. Hiram Jackson

      Race and Social Justice is an option that fulfills the 11th grade social studies requirement.  One can take “conventional” U.S. History, or one can take Race & Social Justice, which also covers much of the same U.S. history but incorporates more coverage of Reconstruction leading into Jim Crow, the history of the labor movement, the women’s suffrage movement, the Civil Rights movement, among other things.

      1. Bill Marshall

        Am I to understand that

        Race & Social Justice

        is only based on racial social justice?  Independent of different cultures within each race?  Independent of religion-identified cultures?  Does it include social justice issues related to the Irish in the 1800’s?  Jews?  Muslims? Buddhists, Hindus, etc., etc.?

        Believe it or not, meant as a fair question, as I doubt you are responsible for the curriculum, were just pointing out a fact, but who sure seems to be aware of what IS going on within DJUSD… if there is a link to the course content of the class you cite, that would suffice…


        1. Bill Marshall

          Apologize, Hiram… even ‘no response’ is sufficient… on me to do the research, not you, Hiram… mea culpa… but if you choose to enlighten, that’d be cool, too…

        2. Hiram Jackson

          This is what the Davis HS course catalog says, page 45:

          RACE AND SOCIAL JUSTICE IN US HISTORY P 672000 1 Year: 10 Credits Prerequisite: Junior standing UC/CSU Approved: a NCAA Approved

          This course covers U.S. History from the perspective of race relations and the quest for social justice by both white and non-white racial and ethnic groups. Students will be trained to design and complete a group research project. This project will take a historical issue in race relations and apply it to a contemporary event or issue in students’ lives.


        3. Bill Marshall

          Thank you Hiram… appreciated…

          Doesn’t fully answer my questions, but you’ve given me (and others) clues of how to find out more from DJUSD… again, thanks for the clues…

      2. Alan Miller

        One can take “conventional” U.S. History, or one can take Race & Social Justice, which also covers much of the same U.S. history but incorporates more coverage of

        REALLY?  This hasn’t been a part of U.S. History for decades now?  I really am shocked . . . that is not sarcasm. Why would it be optional, though, so that racist kids can take “regular” U.S. history?  (That is a bit sarcastic, but kinda not, also)

        1. Alan Miller

          US history is still awfully white.  

          OK, can we make it “less white”, without having to have kids choosing between two alternate versions – “less white US History” and “more white US History” ?

        2. Bill Marshall

          Alan, et. al… JHS thru HS, Social Studies/History was not as “wonder bread” (fluffy and white) for me as others seem to have experienced… it was late 60’s – early 70’s… my JHS was ~ 1/3 white, 1/3 Asian, 1/3 Black… we had sporadic violence (fist fights/ pushing, etc.) but it was almost always white/white, black/black, asian/asian… Dr MLK was murdered by a white dude while I was in 8th grade — and we talked about it… including the raw edges of what students were feeling [remember Dr King’s murder, with video, was on nightly news!] … maybe I was in a bubble of a school district… we learned about ethnicity and injustice… hell, some of my friends, who happened to be Asian, their parents met in the internment camps (in CA)… had other friends, white, who I was invited to parties with, and some of those students’ parents had visible tattoos ala German concentration camps.  German Jews.

          HS was more ‘wonder bread’ as to the student body, but we addressed racial/ethnic issues, including the ‘dark side’ of our “justice” past… that was freaking 45-50 years ago!  “Rocket science” was still new…

          I pity those whose educational experience was different… might explain a lot…

          But as for me, I had a lot of real accounts about ethnicity and social justice in JHS and HS.  Lessons well learned, IMO…

        3. Alan Miller

          But as for me, I had a lot of real accounts about ethnicity and social justice in JHS and HS. 

          Sure, but it sounds like you got it from the population and teachers, not the curriculum, correct?  In White Suburban Acres where I grew up, I marched in an MLK memorial walk, thanks to mom; parents kept us engaged.  Did we discuss at school?  Probably, but I have no memory of that.  But our history curriculum K-12 lacked, even as white history, mainly in getting through so little of it, plus my lack of giving an F as a child.

    2. Bill Marshall

      I second everything Alan posted @ 9:25…

      Will add my wondering as to not just racial, but cultural elements that might well be addressed… should not a discussion of the Civil Rights movement include the non-black (aka white) folk (a lot of Catholics and Jews) who worked for that movement, and gave their time, and sometimes lives?  And any discussion of the KKK in history address the fact that Blacks, Jews, and Catholics (the latter two most often racially “white”) were targeted?  Based on cultural and/or religious bases, and had a lot of injustices in society as a whole… (“no Irish need apply”, etc., etc.)

      As Alan has posted earlier (in part), different threads… what about not only Blacks, Hispanic/Latin(x), Asian, Native Americans, Puerto Ricans, who faced violence/intimidation, economic and other social injustice, but Jews, Irish (predominantly Catholic), Muslim, Hindus etc., who have historically suffered the same things…

      Just saying… but the State guidelines will conform to the loudest, most PC voices… of that I’m 99.5% sure…

  2. Eric Gelber

    Which is it?

    It can be both.

    “race and social justice”…from its title may be a bit left-leaning politically…

    That’s a sad comment on the political right.


      1. Alan Miller

        The ghosts of former commenters might have something to say about that.

        And they are, but instead of posting it here and getting it out of their system, they are yelling internally at the ghosts of Vanguard comments past, and slowly losing their sanity.

    1. Bill Marshall

      Eric… the “political right” is not an ‘entity’… not hegemony… Dad was ‘politically “right”‘ on financial things, somewhat left of center on social issues.   Labelling not so useful… I tend to be median (neither right nor left) on financial issues, a bit left of center on social issues…

      Labelling includes opining all whites are slave-owner descendents, who like to oppress others, all Blacks are lazy/shiftless, drug/gun users, etc.  None of which is true… unless on a specific topic, perhaps “political right/left” should disappear from our lexicon… just saying…

  3. Ron Oertel

    From article:  “He told the public that the silence when speakers have come up does not mean they do not support changes to the ethnic studies curriculum in the district.”

    That is “technically” true! 😉

  4. Bill Marshall

    Here’s a good litmus test: (IMNSHO)

    Do you have Black/Asian/Jew/Muslim/Catholic/Hindu/LBGT++ (etc.) friends/close co-workers, or,

    Do you have friends/close co-workers who happen to be Black/Asian/Jew/Muslim/Hindu/LBGT++ (etc.)…

    [Choose one answer]

    Comments on the ‘test’ welcome…


      1. Bill Marshall

        You know better… ‘trust me on this’…

        But the point you make is exactly the point I was trying to make, however clumsily… methinks…

      2. Bill Marshall

        “Some of my best friends are X” . . .

        One of the most common lines, that I immediately distrust the speaker of those words… because they are already defining folk, not for the measure of their character, but for their race/ethnicity/religion/country or origin, etc. , my Dad, I, spouse, kids are pretty much (90%) beyond that… wish all could be…

        1. Alan Miller

          I immediately distrust the speaker of those words…

          I distrust them, because it has to be one of the most common ‘self-traps’ people fall into, despite the fact everyone knows this one.  I am amazed when I hear it actually uttered — like, dude, you do realize what you just said, right?

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