Newsom vetoes high school ethnic studies bill, says revisions are needed

Photo by Jessica Ruscello on Unsplash

IN an unexpected move, California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday, Sept. 30 vetoed a bill that would have required ethnic studies to be taught in all high schools.

Earlier this year, the California Legislature passed Assembly Bill 331, which would require public high school students to take an ethnic studies course in order to graduate. The bill states that the requirement would be in effect starting at the 2025-26 school year.

Public education systems, institutions and districts across California – like districts in Los Angeles, Anaheim and San Diego — have imposed their own ethnic studies requirements
After vetoing the bill, Newsom emphasized that he supports the notion that ethnic studies helps students better understand the history and struggles of disenfranchised communities. He also expressed praise for the school districts that have implemented their own ethnic studies requirements.

But for there to be a statewide mandate of this graduation requirement, that mandate must achieve “balance, fairness and is inclusive of all communities.”

Previously, Newsom signed and approved an ethnic studies course requirement for the California State University (CSU) system, but stressed that the proposed model for high schools has sparked ongoing disagreements among lawmakers.

“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,” Newsom wrote in his veto message on AB 331.

Assemblymember Jose Medina (D-Riverside) responded to Newsom’s veto with disappointment, saying that the veto is “a failure to push back against the racial rhetoric and bullying of Donald Trump.”

The California Teachers Association also expressed disappointment following Newsom’s veto, saying in a statement, “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.”

A major disagreement that this proposal spurred involves the types of ethnic groups that would be included in this course. Some legislators as well as the State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond agree that the course ought to concentrate on the four ethnic groups that have been the major focal points of collegiate-level ethnic studies since the 1960s: Asian Americans, Black Americans, Chicanos and Latinos and Native Americans and Indigenous communities.

Ethnic studies coursework stresses the importance of “auto-ethnography” in which students “tell their own stories” and promote social justice values. As previously reported in the Asian Journal, the Anaheim Elementary School District unanimously voted in favor of an ethnic studies requirement, which would include significant coursework on the history of Filipinos in the United States.

But other ethnic groups, like the Sikhs, Armenians and Jewish Americans argue that the proposal for a mandatory statewide ethnic studies requirement was too limiting and should expand its purview to include their heritages.

Last year, Jewish groups mobilized objection to the original draft of the bill. Specifically, they decried a proposed lesson plan on the Arab American community, alleging that it minimized anti-Semitism and favored Palestine over Israel.

“We appreciate Governor Newsom’s insistence on developing balanced and inclusive education materials,” Richard Hirschhaut, director of the American Jewish Committee LA, said in a statement released on Wednesday. “It is worth taking time to get this right.” (Klarize Medenilla/AJPress)


Klarize Medenilla

Klarize Medenilla is a staff writer and reporter for the Asian Journal. You can reach her at [email protected].

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