Why do so many California school districts ignore the explicit requirements of California law? That’s the question that our public interest law firm, The Deborah Project, is asking after filing requests for public documents from dozens of California school districts so we can learn what they teach their students about Ethnic Studies and in particular about Zionism, Israel and her neighbors. The California Public Records Act requires public agencies such as school districts to turn over responsive documents sought by the public. But in too many cases, our requests have been either completely ignored or we’ve been told the district has no responsive documents when we know that’s not true.
We just put our question to someone very important: a California judge. We’ve asked the Superior Court in Alameda County to compel Hayward Unified School District to answer the Public Record requests we sent months ago—requests they’ve completely ignored.
Hayward’s failure to answer us at all sure can’t be because they’re not teaching abut this subject. We know they signed a “consulting” contract with an organization publicly committed to teaching wildly antisemitic and demonstrably false claims about Israel, her neighbors, and the ages-old Jewish commitment to the land of Israel. That content is not permitted in California public school curricula.
Here’s the context: California, after a tortuous and fraught battle in which its citizens engaged at an extraordinary level, passed a mandate in 2021 that in order to graduate, all public-school students must take at least one class in ethnic studies. The battle was over the content of what constituted ethnic studies: should all students learn respectfully about all of California’s cultures? Or should they learn what its proponents called the “liberated” view that four groups are victims of white supremacy and everyone else is a racist perpretrator of that white supremacy? And in particular, should all of California’s kids learn that Zionism is a recent invention of white Jews, used to justify the genocide of Palestinian Arabs and the theft of their “sovereign territory?” Or should they learn the truth: that the Jewish commitment to Zion, and to Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel, has been chiseled into the Jewish bible, its prayerbook, its calendar and its rituals for thousands of years?
As the Ethnic Studies law was finalized, proponents of a liberated curriculum setting out the divisive view of Ethnic Studies were outraged not only when the most antisemitic parts were removed when the law was passed, but also when the California government explicitly forbade the teaching of that “liberated” content. Signing the law to put the Ethnic Studies mandate into effect, Governor Newsom said the antisemitic ideas “will not see the light of day.”
Though it’s clearly illegal, a small but zealous minority is soliciting California’s school districts offering to be hired as “consultants”—sometimes to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars per district—so they can instruct teachers on how to teach exactly the material that California law forbids.
Because the antisemitic material is clearly illegal under California law, a key part of the “liberated” playbook is to hide what they’re doing from the public. To ensure that parents, the public, and responsible school adminstrators don’t find out when this illegal and racist content is taught, and then put a stop to it, liberated leaders instruct their fellow travelers to “fly under the radar” and “close their door” when they teach children that Zionism is an exercise in white supremacy—even though most of Israel’s Jewish population are people of color.
That’s why the Deborah Project—a public interest law firm devoted to fighting antisemitism in education—is conducting a campaign across California to flush the “liberated” materials out into the open. And it’s why we’ve initiated the first lawsuit to press this important step toward transparency in public education.
In the beginning of January, Hayward received the standard Deborah Project Public Records requests, seeking documents related to the district’s teaching about Ethnic Studies in general and the antisemitic material in particular, and about the District’s retention of outside consultants to help in this effort. When the Ethnic Studies law was under debate, Hayward passed a resolution supporting the inclusion of the content California ultimately banned as antisemitic. More recently, HUSD signed a contract awarding tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars to leading proponents impermissible “liberated” curriculum content.
So Hayward clearly has documents responsive to our Public Records requests. Hayward’s official response to our requests? Nothing. After a short administrative instruction as to whom we should send our request, the communication stopped dead. They’ve just stonewalled us completely from the beginning of January until now despite our repeated efforts to prod a response. So we had no choice but to go to court, demanding that HUSD be ordered to open its files and reveal what it’s doing.
Unresponsiveness in the face of pushback against antisemitism seems to be a feature, not a bug, at Hayward. For over a decade the district had on staff an English teacher named Henry Bens, whose curriculum included a 42-page tract purporting to reveal the Jewish plot to achieve world domination; instructed his students that the Jews stole Judaism from Black people, and who routinely gave the Heil Hitler salute in front of his class.
Not surprisingly, students and teachers complained to HUSD about such hateful lunacy. But nothing was done until the matter finally hit the news media. In February, Bens was suspended from teaching – though Nazis everywhere will be relieved to know that he was put on “administrative leave,” rather than having been fired. HUSD’s website reveals https://mehs-haywardusd-ca.schoolloop.com/staff he’s still in the same HUSD position today that he had been in for over ten years.
Hayward administrators’ toleration of their Heil Hitler-ing teacher Bens and his race-hatred filled worldview is troubling on its own. Perhaps the same people responsible for that are the ones who hired liberated consultants to teach Hayward teachers how to teach Ethnic Studies.
For now, those administrators are still behind closed doors. But with the prosecution of our effort to enforce the public’s right to know about teaching materials at Hayward, these people, and the content they’re pushing on Hayward students at public expense, won’t be under the radar for too much longer. They’re very much on our radar screen, and soon those materials will be fully out in public. Which is where all public-school teaching materials belong.
Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the Legal Director of The Deborah Project www.deborahproject.org .