Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill on Friday that will require one ethnic studies course to be completed for high school graduation beginning with the class of 2030.
Assembly Bill 101, authored by Assemblyman Jose Medina (D-Riverside), will have schools begin offering ethnic studies courses in the 2025-2026 school year, with the model curriculum including African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders, and Native Americans. Lesson plans for Jews, Arab Americans, Sikhs, and Armenian Americans will also be included. By the 2029-2030 school year the ethnic studies class will be made mandatory.
All schools, including charter schools, will be covered under AB 101. The bill also specifically outlines that a one semester course will be enough to fulfill the new requirement.
An ethnic studies requirement at the high school level had been in the works for years, with the recent George Floyd protests last year serving as a catalyst to begin an effort in the legislature in earnest. Other legislation stemming from the Floyd incident had been previously approved as well. Last year, Governor Newsom signed AB 1460 into law, which created an ethnic studies requirement a all CSU colleges for graduation. Earlier this year, an ethnic studies curriculum was passed unanimously by the state board of education. And locally, different school districts, including Los Angeles Unified, have already instilled ethnic studies courses as part of the curriculum.
Despite these previous successes, AB 101’s future had been largely in doubt all year. The bill initially had a lack of support due to not including numerous marginalized groups such as Jews, Arabs, and Armenians, forcing Assemblyman Medina to water down the requirements and allow those groups into the the proposed bill. Other additions, such as the proposed course not being accepted by local boards until after public meeting, were also added, to allow the public to weigh in and possibly tailor the course to what parents and school districts want.
The changes were enough to sway enough on-the-fence Democratic legislators to pass both houses last month, but proved not to be enough to try and get Governor Newsom to veto the bill. Many have come out against the bill, most prominently by Jewish-Americans, who largely oppose the bill as being anti-Jewish and being based off of political activism. Others noted that the ethnic studies requirement ignores the plight of many European groups, such as Irish-Americans, German-Americans, Polish-Americans, and other groups who had faced ethnic racism and violence throughout American history.
However, even with many urging the Governor to veto the bill, as well as more and more states banning mandatory ethnic studies classes and critical race theory from schools, Newsom signed the bill on Friday.
“We did it! I am pleased to announce that AB 101, our Ethnic Studies bill, has been signed by the Governor,” tweeted Assemblyman Medina on Friday. “Thank you to my colleagues, students, and numerous advocates who have been apart of the struggle to add ethnic studies to our school curriculum.”
We did it! I am pleased to announce that #AB101, our Ethnic Studies bill, has been signed by the @CAgovernor. Thank you to my colleagues, students, and numerous advocates who have been apart of the struggle to add #ethnicstudies to our school curriculum. #iamethnicstudies pic.twitter.com/m7JKEBKK7G
— Jose Medina (@AsmJoseMedina) October 8, 2021
In a press release, Medina also noted that “The inclusion of ethnic studies in the high school curriculum is long overdue. Students cannot have a full understanding of our state and nation without the inclusion of the contributions and struggles of Native Americans, African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans. The signing of AB 1010 today is one-step in the the long struggle for equal education for all students. Schools can’t just flip the switch and be ready. This gives school districts plenty of time to get their curriculum in place and hire well qualified teachers to teach these classes.”
While AB 1010 was largely supported by state lawmakers and educators, opponents of the bill noted that, due to the long period of time between signing and becoming a part of classrooms, legal challenges were likely. Opponents point to the growing nationwide bans and challenges to critical race theory and mandatory ethnic studies courses nationwide, and how they may carry over to California.
“Many legislators are terrified what would happen if this made it to higher courts with Bush and Trump appointees, or if it went to a statewide vote,” said a source close to one of the efforts to stop AB 101 from being implemented. “Look at how many times Californians have torn down affirmative action or how many times the Appellate courts sided against California. This isn’t a sure thing, and if it reaches the courts, there’s going to be a lot of panic in Sacramento.”
If remained unchallenged, schools will begin offering ethnic studies courses in the 2025-2026 school year.
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