Credit: Website of Assemblyman Jose Medina
Assemblyman Jose Medina, primary author of a bill requiring completion of an ethnic studies to graduate from high school, speaking on the Assembly floor in 2017.

Gov. Gavin Newsom unexpectedly vetoed a bill Wednesday to mandate a course in ethnic studies as a high school graduation requirement, starting in 2029-30. He announced his decision on the final day for acting on bills passed in the legislative the session ending Aug. 31.

In his veto message on Assembly Bill 331, Newsom reiterated his support for ethnic studies, pointing out that he signed a similar bill last month adding an ethnic studies course as a graduation requirement for California State University. But he said continuing disagreements over a proposed model ethnic studies curriculum for high school should be resolved before imposing a high school mandate.

“Last year, I expressed 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,” he wrote.

He said he is directing his staff to work with State Board of Education President Linda Darling-Hammond and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond to ensure the curriculum achieves “balance, fairness and is inclusive of all communities.”

The California Department of Education, under Thurmond’s direction, proposed the latest draft. After further revision and public comment, it will go to the state board, which under a 2016 law must approve the model curriculum by March. School districts in California already offer hundreds of ethnic studies courses as electives. Several districts, including Los Angeles, San Diego and Fresno, plan to require the course.

In a statement, the bill’s lead author, Assemblyman Jose Medina, D-Riverside, called the veto “a failure to push back against the racial rhetoric and bullying of Donald Trump” and a “disservice” to students who had called for the course requirement. He vowed to introduce the bill for the third time next year and expressed hope that he would convince Newsom to sign it.

Medina said he was “somewhat surprised” by Newsom’s veto, since the governor’s staff hadn’t raised objections to the bill in late August when he negotiated a series of changes, including several suggested by the California Jewish Legislative Caucus. In his veto message, Newsom praised the amendment that would ensure that an ethnic studies curriculum will be free from “bias and discrimination.”

Jewish groups had objected that the original draft curriculum minimized anti-Semitism and sided with the Palestinians over Israel in a proposed lesson plan on Arab Americans. Others said its critique of America was unbalanced, with a perspective that sees only America’s shortcomings on race. The document was written primarily by ethnic studies experts, college professors and high school teachers from California.

Still unresolved is a broader disagreement over which groups ethnic studies should include. Thurmond agrees with legislators and ethnic studies advocates who want the course to concentrate on the four groups that have been the focus of ethnic studies in higher education since its inception in the late 1960s: African Americans, Chicanos and Latinos, Native Americans and Indigenous people, and Asian Americans.

Other ethnic groups, including Sikhs, Armenians and Jewish Americans, want the course to include more about their heritage and continuing struggles with prejudice. Earlier this month, Thurmond announced a new million-dollar “Education to End Hate” initiative that will include resources and training grants for teachers to teach tolerance for differences in race and religion and a roundtable with political and social justice leaders on how to create tolerant learning environments.

Rabbi Mayer May, executive director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, which will provide materials on confronting anti-Semitism, joined Thurmond at the announcement.

But this initiative doesn’t address the dispute over an ethnic studies curriculum.

Newsom’s message doesn’t say what a compromise would be, but his veto will add pressure to reach it. “In California, we don’t tolerate diversity. We celebrate it. That should be reflected in our high school curriculum,” he wrote. “I look forward to our model curriculum achieving these goals.”

AB 331 would require the completion of a one-semester ethnic studies course starting with the graduating class of 2029-30; districts would have to begin offering a course in the 2025-26 school year.

Medina said another year’s delay in passage of the bill should not affect that timeline.

In a statement Wednesday, the California Teachers Association expressed disappointment with the veto. “In the midst of the largest and most widespread movement for equality and equity our nation has seen since the Civil Rights era, the need for all students to learn about the diverse histories and perspectives of Black, Indigenous and people of color couldn’t be greater,” said CTA President E. Toby Boyd. He called for “an authentic ethnic studies curriculum that can be implemented with veracity and reliability.”

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  1. Bakari 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    I applaud Assemblyman Medina and the CTA on calling for the ethnic studies requirement. California schools are teaming with cultural diversity, but sadly the history and culture of students of color is still lacking in school curriculum. We know that there’s a history of White supremacy and colonialism in this country that has undermined and marginalized students of the four major groups—Indigenous people, African Americans, Chicanos and Latinos, and Asian Americans. The contributions and stories … Read More

    I applaud Assemblyman Medina and the CTA on calling for the ethnic studies requirement. California schools are teaming with cultural diversity, but sadly the history and culture of students of color is still lacking in school curriculum. We know that there’s a history of White supremacy and colonialism in this country that has undermined and marginalized students of the four major groups—Indigenous people, African Americans, Chicanos and Latinos, and Asian Americans.

    The contributions and stories of these and other marginalized groups are too often silenced or barely talked about in traditional K-12 curricula. Ethnic Studies is the way to address the silence. Districts and schools that have already adopted Ethnic Studies need to be supported, and legislation for an Ethnic Studies requirement needs to be reintroduced and not held up by people whose ideological goal is to silence the stories and aspirations of people of color in and outside of California.

  2. Mary Kay 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    Pandering once again and not allowing students to get a solid education in the three R’s- Reading, r-writing, R-arithmetic.

  3. Rapha 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    I bet the teachers union pressured Newson to veto AB331. I am going to sign the petition to recall Newson, because the Democrats and Governor Newson has given the Latino Community lip services.

    Replies

    • John Fensterwald 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

      Rapha, if you read the article to the end, you will see that the CTA was critical of Newsom’s veto.

  4. Geraldine Bolander 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    This is an extremely difficult issue to address. Think about all the "ethnicities" across the entire globe. If you start out with this, how are you going to address them all? Think Italian, German, Swedish, Indian (both American and from India), Somalian, Australian, German, French, Hispanic, Eskimo, Afghans, Iranians, Iraq and I am honestly not able to address every possibility due to my lack of knowledge. I know there are various … Read More

    This is an extremely difficult issue to address. Think about all the “ethnicities” across the entire globe. If you start out with this, how are you going to address them all? Think Italian, German, Swedish, Indian (both American and from India), Somalian, Australian, German, French, Hispanic, Eskimo, Afghans, Iranians, Iraq and I am honestly not able to address every possibility due to my lack of knowledge. I know there are various ethnicities within many of what I have named. I would think trying to be “all inclusive” on that basis is a losing proposition. I believe you simply have to say that all humans need to be respected and supported as long as they do not do harm to one another on a one on one basis or create “splinter” groups with the same intention.

  5. Gavin Trump 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    What Asm. Medina implied is 110% correct, Governor Newsom listened to right wing pressure to veto this bill, reproducing President Donald Trump's ridiculous, implicitly racist, and hypocritical rhetoric about being "free of bias" in regards to critical race theory, ethnic studies, the 1619 project, etc. Literally, both the President and Governor are using the same talking points here -- and this is progressive California Governor Newsom? Much of the rationale for the veto could've come … Read More

    What Asm. Medina implied is 110% correct, Governor Newsom listened to right wing pressure to veto this bill, reproducing President Donald Trump’s ridiculous, implicitly racist, and hypocritical rhetoric about being “free of bias” in regards to critical race theory, ethnic studies, the 1619 project, etc. Literally, both the President and Governor are using the same talking points here — and this is progressive California Governor Newsom?

    Much of the rationale for the veto could’ve come straight from the Trump administration, which is why Asm. Medina is correct to start making that association — the evidence is crystal clear, and the hypocrisy speaks volumes. Let’s be honest, the whole California K-12 curriculum (based on 1998 Governor Pete Wilson administration “state standards” when it comes to History-Social Science) is today heavily biased, unjust, and traumatic to communities and students of color – DAILY. What are you doing about this Governor Newsom as you silenced and squelched communities of color with the implicitly racist reasons behind your veto, and your proposed paths forward yesterday? Who are you listening to here?

    It is clear Governor Newsom prioritized right wing pressures over communities of color with this veto, he prioritized it over the thousands of students of color who advocated to him to pass it; over the CA Legislative Caucuses of Color who made it a priority bill and strongly supported its passage; over State Superintendent Tony Thurmond who supported it; over the Legislative Jewish Caucus who supported it with its amendments as well the revised draft of the model curriculum which listened to their primary requests, and even over the liberal Assembly and Senate legislature as a whole, who overwhelmingly passed it, and encouraged his signing — especially during this moment, students of color have waited and struggled decades, if not centuries for this moment.

    Will the Assembly make this the rare legislative override of an unjust and misinformed veto by the Governor, or will racial injustice and the Governor’s misinformed and implicitly racist anti-authentic Ethnic Studies narrative stand? It is clear it was right wing pressures on him that prevailed and are dictating his narrative, at the cost of all of us… Who from the right wing pressured Governor Newsom to go against communities and students of color in this way you may ask? Stay tuned… and Bravo to those who are not so easily accepting the implicitly racist narrative offered in the Governor’s rationale…

    Replies

    • Van C Baker 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

      Newsom, cowed by right-wingers?

      That’s funny.

  6. Ken Horowitz 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    With many young people getting COVID-19, a much more important requirement should be a course of contemporary health issues. A course in emerging infectious diseases and the role of immunity in preventing these diseases is severely lacking in most high school curriculum.
    Dr. Ken Horowitz
    Foothill College Professor

  7. Paul Muench 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    The text of AB 331 makes provisions for districts to be more inclusive than the model curriculum. I'm guessing that Newsom's veto means he anticipates most districts will adopt the model curriculum instead of designing their own. I really hope that is not the case as Jerry Brown got it right when he vetoed Ethnic Studies because high school students already have enough requirements to meet. Many students would need the Ethnic … Read More

    The text of AB 331 makes provisions for districts to be more inclusive than the model curriculum. I’m guessing that Newsom’s veto means he anticipates most districts will adopt the model curriculum instead of designing their own. I really hope that is not the case as Jerry Brown got it right when he vetoed Ethnic Studies because high school students already have enough requirements to meet. Many students would need the Ethnic Studies requirement to fold into other courses so that they can meet two requirements at once.

  8. Dr. Bill Conrad 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    It is a Sisyphean Task to say the least. The state will never be able to satisfy the legitimate demands of hundreds of unique ethnic and religious groups within an Ethnic Studies Curriculum. Each of the major ethnic groups in California will expect their 10 seconds of fame within the curriculum. Hispanics are not a homogeneous group. The group includes Mexicans, Argentinians, Columbians, Hondurans, Puerto Ricans, and so on. You get the picture. It is a … Read More

    It is a Sisyphean Task to say the least.

    The state will never be able to satisfy the legitimate demands of hundreds of unique ethnic and religious groups within an Ethnic Studies Curriculum. Each of the major ethnic groups in California will expect their 10 seconds of fame within the curriculum. Hispanics are not a homogeneous group. The group includes Mexicans, Argentinians, Columbians, Hondurans, Puerto Ricans, and so on. You get the picture.

    It is a fool’s errand.

    And why do the grown-ups always assume that it is the children’s lack of ethnic knowledge that is the root cause problem of racism within the educational system? Why do the children have to undergo a mandated new curriculum? I suggest the state facilitate Saturday schools for those ethnic groups that want to teach the characteristics of their cultures to their children. It would be a noble effort.

    If the adults want to pursue the problems with racism within our K-12 education system, they might consider looking in the mirror and begin adapting their practices to the academic needs of the many ethnic groups under their care. With only 21% of Black students proficient or advanced in mathematics on the state test in 2019, it might be a good idea for the state to pursue improvements in the opportunities for a few more Black students to achieve math proficiency. No?

    I know that is a big hassle. It would actually take some serious transformations in the overall K-12 education system to make significant changes in this academic area – like improving how teachers themselves learn to teach mathematics, or ensure that the Black children get the most qualified math teachers. That would be a very heavy lift, for sure. One that the state does not have the capacity nor interest to pursue.

    Better to fall back on the tried and true tropes of Blame the Victims and create an ethnic studies course that the children are forced to take. That also gives us the opportunity to signal our faux cultural virtuosity.

    Real change to end racism within the education system?

    Nah.

    We are still very much into protecting white entitlement, thank you.