Newsom Signs Bill Requiring CA Public High School Students Pass Ethnic Studies Course To Graduate
OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 08: California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks during a news conference at Kingston 11 Cuisine on October 08, 2021 in Oakland, California.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom has signed legislation that makes California the first state to mandate public high school students pass an ethnic studies class as a graduation requirement.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported, “High school students in California will be required to learn about the contributions and oppression of people of color in America, under a measure Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Friday.” According to the outlet, the new law “adds a one-semester ethnic studies course to the state’s high school graduation requirements for public schools, starting with the 2029-30 academic year.”

It also requires public schools to offer at least one ethnic studies course as an elective beginning in the 2025-26 school year.

Newsom said the legislation, known as Assembly Bill 101, enables students “to learn their own stories, and those of their classmates,” adding, “and a number of studies have shown that these courses boost student achievement over the long run – especially among students of color.”

“America is shaped by our shared history, much of it painful and etched with woeful injustice,” Newsom wrote in a signing statement. “Students deserve to see themselves in their studies, and they must understand our nation’s full history if we expect them to one day build a more just society.”

Assemblymember Jose Medina, a Democrat from Riverside who authored the bill, described the signing as “one-step in the long struggle for equal education for all students.”

“The inclusion of ethnic studies in the high school curriculum is long overdue,” said Medina in a statement. “Students cannot have a full understanding of the history of our state and nation without the inclusion of the contribution and struggles of Native Americans, African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans.”

“I want to acknowledge the countless young people, high school and college students, teachers and professors, who have organized, demonstrated, boycotted classes, and gone on hunger strikes to demand a more equitable and inclusive educational system,” Medina continued.

More details from The Chronicle:

Some Republican legislators said the course is inappropriate for high school students, arguing it is rooted in critical race theory, a view that racism is ingrained in laws and government institutions.

Proponents say ethnic studies courses are shown to help students of color improve academically because they feel empowered by seeing themselves reflected in textbooks, rather than a “Eurocentric” version of history.

The final version of AB101 includes a provision that discourages school districts from using earlier versions of the model curriculum that included references to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The measure also prohibits schools from using instruction materials that promote bias or discrimination toward any group.

Newsom vetoed a similar proposal last year.

The Los Angeles Times reported, “At that time, he called for a revised and completed state curriculum guide for ethnic studies – one that would be, he said, balanced, fair and ‘inclusive of all communities.’”

The California Board of Education approved those revisions in March.

Dr. Melina Abdullah, a prominent Black Lives Matter organizer who is also a professor of Pan-African Studies at Cal State LA, has been one of the lead proponents for mandating ethnic studies requirements for public high schools and colleges in the Golden State. She was instrumental in convincing the L.A. Unified School District to make ethnic studies a graduation requirement in 2014.

“Black Studies transformed me from one who dropped out of traditional high school and was losing her way to one who earned her PhD and became a professor and activist/organizer,” Abdullah once revealed to her followers on social media. “There are countless others like me whose lives have been saved by ethnic studies.”

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