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