All California Public High School Students Will Soon Have to Take Ethnic Studies

Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed a bill that requires public high school students to take an ethnic studies course before graduating.Credit…Allison Zaucha for The New York Times

The hundreds of new laws that Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed over the past several weeks include plenty of “firsts.”

California has become the first state to force the garment industry to pay workers by the hour, instead of per item. The first to ban the sale of gas-powered lawn mowers. The first to target Amazon production quotas. The first to outlaw removing a condom without permission during sex.

Of these landmark bills, perhaps the most controversial is one requiring all public high school students to take an ethnic studies course to graduate.

Under the new law, high schoolers will be taught about the struggles and contributions of African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, Native Americans and other ethnic groups, “which have often been untold in U.S. history courses,” according to the state’s model ethnic studies curriculum.

California’s student population is highly diverse — less than a quarter of public K-12 students are white. Through ethnic studies courses, students can learn their own stories as well as those of their classmates, Newsom said.

“America is shaped by our shared history, much of it painful and etched with woeful injustice,” Newsom wrote in his signing message. “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.”

What’s the new law exactly?

Assembly Bill 101 adds one semester of ethnic studies to the state’s high school graduation requirements.

This will introduce high schoolers to concepts that have typically been reserved for the collegiate level.

Not only was ethnic studies born on a Bay Area college campus, but it’s also already a graduation requisite at California community colleges, the California State University system and some University of California campuses.

The specifics of what will be taught in high schools are up to local districts.

The nearly 900-page model curriculum approved by the California Department of Education this year includes dozens of sample lessons, such as “#BlackLivesMatter and Social Change,” “Chinese Railroad Workers” and “U.S. Housing Inequality: Redlining and Racial Housing Covenants.”

Whom does this affect?

The first high schoolers subject to the new mandate are those graduating in the 2029-30 academic year. Schools don’t have to begin offering ethnic studies courses until 2025.

The requirement applies to students at all California public schools, including charters. There are currently about 1.7 million public high school students in the state.

A demonstration in front of the Los Alamitos Unified School District building against the teaching of critical race theory.Credit…Etienne Laurent/EPA, via Shutterstock

Is anyone else doing this?

Several districts in California have already added ethnic studies to their high school graduation requirements, including San Diego, San Francisco, Fresno and Los Angeles Unified school districts.

In 2017, Oregon passed a law ordering that ethnic studies concepts be integrated into existing social studies courses for K-12 students. The rule differs from California’s in that it doesn’t create a distinct course focused on ethnic studies.

Who opposes the law?

California has been working for years on developing a model ethnic studies curriculum, but early drafts faced heavy pushback from many quarters. Amid these concerns, Newsom last year vetoed a nearly identical version of the bill.

Previous drafts of the state’s teaching guide were criticized as too left-leaning, filled with jargon and promoting “critical race theory,” an academic concept that argues racism is ingrained in American laws and government institutions.

There was also condemnation from Jewish groups, who felt the curriculum emphasized Palestinian oppression while barely mentioning the Holocaust, as well as other ethnic groups that felt excluded.

The final version of the state’s curriculum, approved this March, deleted references that offended Jewish groups while adding lessons about the experiences of Jews, Arabs and Sikhs in America, The Los Angeles Times reports. It also struck terms such as “cisheteropatriarchy” and “hxrstory,” as well as language connecting capitalism with oppression.

Yet critics remain. Some supporters of the original guidelines feel the scope should not have been expanded beyond the four ethnic groups that lived in America before Europeans arrived.

Others find the current version too radical still. Williamson M. Evers, a former assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Education, told The Los Angeles Times that the model curriculum was “permeated” with content that made it “racially divisive and burdened by faddish ideology.”

As districts across the state figure out how to put into place this new mandate, the debate will undoubtedly continue.


The Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach together handle 40 percent of the shipping containers imported into the United States.Credit…Allison Zaucha for The New York Times

The rest of the news

  • Port of Los Angeles: On Wednesday, President Biden announced that the Port of Los Angeles would begin operating 24/7 to help relieve backlogs in the global supply chains that deliver critical goods to the United States.

  • Backyard oil wells: Despite the state’s reputation as environmentally friendly, neighborhood drilling is a distinctly Californian phenomenon, Capital & Main reports.

  • Opinion: Of the 10 plays in the Center Theater Group of Los Angeles’s upcoming season, just one was written by a woman. Where is theater’s gender reckoning?

  • Dodgers v. Giants: The teams will face each other today at 6 p.m. for a Game 5 that felt inevitable. “This is what baseball wants,” said the Dodgers’ manager, Dave Roberts.

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

  • Santa Barbara fire: As of Wednesday evening, the Alisal fire had burned more than 24 square miles and kept Highway 101 shut down, The Associated Press reports.

  • San Diego vaccine mandate: An anti-mask group has sued the San Diego Unified School District to block a Covid-19 vaccine mandate for staff members and students, The Times of San Diego reports.

  • Plane crash: The pilot of a plane that crashed into a San Diego suburb this week was warned several times by an air traffic controller to keep on course, The Associated Press reports.

  • Black art: A new project plans to commission over 100 artworks by Black artists for a new cultural corridor in South Los Angeles.

  • L.A. councilman indicted: Mark Ridley-Thomas, a Los Angeles city councilman, was indicted on Wednesday on federal charges of taking bribes from a former U.S.C. dean, The Los Angeles Times reports. Ridley-Thomas allegedly steered county money to the university in exchange for graduate school admission for his son, also a politician.

CENTRAL CALIFORNIA

  • Inside Fresno’s child welfare services: Social workers described disturbing living conditions for children awaiting permanent homes who were staying at the child welfare services office in Fresno County, The Fresno Bee reports.

NORTHERN CALIFORNIA

  • Weather warning: There will be critical fire conditions in the Sacramento Valley, Delta and eastern Mendocino National Forest through Thursday evening.

  • A shoplifting problem: Walgreens is closing five locations in San Francisco and blames an epidemic of “organized” theft.

  • High school football: An East Bay school district is investigating after a viral video that shows an intense football drill at a high school, ABC 7 News reports.

  • Lake Tahoe: The lake’s water levels have hit a four-year low after intense winds exacerbated the impacts of California’s drought, according to The Guardian.

  • School vaccine mandate: The Sacramento City Unified School District voted to impose a Covid-19 vaccine mandate for all eligible students and staff members by Nov. 30, The Sacramento Bee reports.


Credit…Ryan Liebe for The New York Times

What we’re eating

Little bits of cream cheese in these pumpkin muffins make for a rich and creamy treat.


Credit…Jason Henry for The New York Times

Where we’re traveling

Today’s travel tip comes from Barry Goldberg, a reader who lives in Durham, N.C.:

Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to CAtoday@nytimes.com. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.


What we’re recommending

These 10 new books.


And before you go, some good news

This might get Charlie Brown’s attention: The first-place pumpkin at Half Moon Bay’s annual contest came in at a whopping 2,191 pounds, The San Francisco Chronicle reports.

Half Moon Bay, a coastal city south of San Francisco that has earned the title “The Pumpkin Capital,” has been hosting the competition for nearly half a century.

Here’s some fun back story from the article:


Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Soumya

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Surprise ending (5 letters).

Steven Moity and Mariel Wamsley contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at CAtoday@nytimes.com.

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