Several Jewish groups praised California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, for vetoing a bill on Sept. 30 that eventually would have required the state’s high school students to take a course on ethnic studies.
Newsom explained in his signing statement that he was vetoing the bill, AB 331, because “there is much uncertainty about the appropriate K-12 model curriculum for ethnic studies.” He added that in 2019, he was concerned “that the initial draft of the model curriculum was insufficiently balanced and inclusive and needed to be amended. In my opinion, the latest draft, which is currently out for review, still needs revision.”
He concluded his statement by stating that California celebrates diversity and “that should be reflected in our high school curriculum.”
AB 331 would have mandated high schools to offer ethnic studies courses starting in the 2025-26 academic year and then, in 2029-30, start to require students to take an ethnic studies course in order to graduate.
Several Jewish groups applauded Newsom.
“We appreciate Governor Newsom’s insistence on developing balanced and inclusive educational materials for California’s schools, so that all children will confront racism in all its forms, build bridges of interethnic understanding, and see themselves in the curriculum,” American Jewish Committee Los Angeles Regional Director Richard S. Hirschhaut said. “It is worth taking the time to get this right.”
The Simon Wiesenthal Center tweeted, “Thank you Governor @GavinNewsom
for your courageous and important veto of a controversial and deeply flawed ethnic studies curriculum.”
— SimonWiesenthalCntr (@simonwiesenthal) October 1, 2020
StandWithUs CEO and co-founder Roz Rothstein similarly said in a statement, “We are relieved Governor Newsom acknowledged the concerns that so many citizens across California have expressed about the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (ESMC). The latest draft must be revised to accurately represent and include Jews, teach about antisemitism in all its forms, and remove guiding values and principles which will be used to justify bringing bias and hate into our classrooms.”
AMCHA Initiative director Tammi Rossman-Benjamin also said in a statement, “There is an important distinction between the broad and worthy field of ethnic studies, with its goal of understanding and celebrating the contributions of California’s and our nation’s diversity, and the narrow field of ‘Critical Ethnic Studies’ that the developing California curriculum is modeled after. The mission of this narrow understanding of ethnic studies is to promote political beliefs and political activism that are antithetical to the educational setting, inherently anti-Semitic and pose a dangerous threat to Jewish students.
“We commend the Governor for recognizing this important distinction, and we hope that moving forward, the state legislature will take steps to ensure that state approved instructional materials and K-12 classrooms are free from political bias and not used to advance political causes.”
Progressive Zionists of California board chair Rachel Bracker said in a statement, “We’re disappointed that Ethnic Studies will not be a graduation requirement, but it is an unfortunate necessity following the significant problems with its model curriculum, which must be amended to include California’s Middle Eastern minorities, Armenians, and Sikhs. We sincerely hope that this hail mary to save the integrity of Ethnic Studies will encourage the model curriculum’s drafters to draw from versions created with community buy-in, like LAUSD [Los Angeles Unified School District]’s, and add necessary anti-hate guidelines such as the IHRA definition of antisemitism.”
Democratic Assemblymember Jose Medina, who sponsored the bill, criticized Newsom’s veto as “a missed opportunity,” saying that the ethnic studies curriculum is needed “at a time when the Trump administration is threatening to punish school districts for teaching anti-racism and anti-bias curriculum.”
“As civil unrest and racial tension have risen across the nation, California has marketed itself as a progressive beacon working to overcome its past transgressions and chart an equitable future. In order to build racial justice in this state and country, all of our students need to learn the real history of America — and that history includes the diverse experiences and perspectives of people of color.”
Myriad Jewish groups had criticized the most recent draft of the ESMC for not including Jews in the Middle East and anti-Semitism in the curriculum and argued that the draft left the door open for pro-boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) advocacy against Israel in the classroom.