SACRAMENTO – California will require students to complete an ethnic study course in order to graduate from high school under a law that Governor Gavin Newsom signed on Friday, and it is believed to be the first state to require such coursework .
The new law comes after a year of California leaders and activists focusing more on racial justice following the May 2020 police assassination of George Floyd in Minneapolis. It also comes because conservatives across the country have protested against K-12 classes on systemic racism and have protested “critical racial theory” at school council meetings.
High school students will not need to take courses for graduation until 2029, while schools will need to offer ethnic studies courses starting in 2025, so districts and education officials have time to fully develop coursework. The curriculum has been the subject of intense debate as some ethnic groups have raised concerns about the teaching of their history.
The Newsom office on Friday pointed to research from Stanford University showing that ethnic studies “help expand educational opportunities in schools, educate students about California’s diverse communities, and increase academic engagement and success” .
It took the state several years to develop a model curriculum for ethnic studies and drew criticism from the Jewish Caucus Legislaturethat said the first draft left out its full story. Schools will continue to be able to develop their own plan in accordance with Bill 101 of the Local Congregation.
The bill requires districts to consider the “lengthy, thorough, consultative, and inclusive process” that the State Board of Education has embarked on to frame the curriculum, but allows schools to develop their own plan if approved by a local school board subject to public hearings.
The State’s Framework for Ethnic Studies, approved in March, promotes “social awareness” and will address “institutionalized benefit systems” and forms of bigotry such as anti-blackness, xenophobia and anti-Semitism.
Bill’s author, Rep. Jose Medina (D-Riverside), has repeatedly unsuccessfully enforced legislation on ethnic studies. Newsom vetoed a similar bill last year, saying that while he approves of the mission, he has concerns that the curriculum remains “poorly balanced” after concerns by Jewish and Arab-American organizations.
Former Governor Jerry Brown also vetoed an attempt in 2018, saying that while he appreciates ethnic studies, schools can already offer them without a mandate.
The long delay in implementation reflects the potential logistical and political challenges in developing the coursework and commissioning it for graduation. The bill “provides a number of safeguards to ensure that courses are free of bias or bigotry and are suitable for all students,” Newsom officials said in a statement.
“I want to recognize the myriad of young people, high school and college students, teachers and professors who organized, demonstrated, boycotted classes and went on hunger strikes to demand a fairer and more inclusive education system,” Medina said in a statement Signing AB 101 today is a step in the long struggle for equal education for all students. “