But the governor, who recently signed a different bill requiring all California State University System undergraduates to take ethnic studies, said that concerns about what should be taught in a high school course led him to veto the bill.
He wrote: “In California, we don’t tolerate our diversity. We celebrate it. That should be reflected in our high school curriculum. I look forward to the model curriculum achieving these goals.”
Newsom said he would introduce new legislation about a high school ethnic studies requirement, and was directing his staff to work with Linda Darling-Hammond, president of the State Board of Education, and with Tony Thurmond, state superintendent of public instruction, to “ensure that the draft ethnic studies model curriculum achieves balance, fairness, and is inclusive of all communities.”
The author of the bill, Assembly member Jose Medina (D), said in a statement that the veto was a “disservice” to students and that he would reintroduce the legislation next year.
One critic of the draft curriculum, the AMCHA Initiative, said in a statement that it applauds Newsom for “keeping politics and anti-Semitism out of an educational curriculum.”
The controversy springs from a law signed in 2016 by Gov. Jerry Brown (D), which mandated that California create an ethnic studies course. An advisory committee, which was made up mostly of K-12 teachers and professors, was appointed in 2018 by the State Board of Education to draft a curriculum that could be used by local school systems to create their own courses.
A draft curriculum was released in 2019, and some people alleged that it was biased against Israel and Jews, that it likened capitalism to “oppression” and that it promoted a far-left-wing political agenda. The draft, for example, excluded anti-Semitism from a list of forms of bigotry, and included terms such as “herstory” instead of “history.”
A second draft recently released for comment was said to have addressed some of the central criticisms, such as including anti-Semitism as a form of bigotry. But critics were still unhappy.
In September, a coalition of 80 organizations urged Newsom to veto the bill, saying that even though the revision process for the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (ESMC) was not complete, “there are numerous indications that the final draft will be no less problematic than the original one, which evoked outrage from tens of thousands of Californians, hundreds of organizations and dozens of state legislators.”
“We are deeply concerned that classes taught using this curriculum will become vehicles for highly controversial, one-sided political advocacy and activism that will both subvert the educational mission of our schools and incite bigotry and harm against many students,” it said.
Referring to the state’s Instructional Quality Commission (IQC), which is supposed to pass judgment on the curriculum, it said: “In addition, we are especially concerned that the anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist ideological orientation of Critical Ethnic Studies — the version of ethnic studies explicitly articulated in the previous and current drafts of the ESMC and strongly embraced by a majority of IQC commissioners — will foster a toxic climate for Jewish and pro-Israel students throughout the state, and foment harm against them.”