SDUHSD explores future of Ethnic Studies requirement

California State Governor Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 101 into law in Oct. 2021, mandating that students, beginning with the graduating class of 2030, take a semester of an Ethnic Studies class in high school.

This new requirement aims to introduce high school students to the “interdisciplinary study” of histories and cultures underrepresented in traditional U.S. and World History courses, according to California 100, a policy research collaboration by the University of California and Stanford University. California is currently the only state that has made Ethnic Studies a graduation requirement.

Now, California school districts are determining how to implement this requirement within the next year; chief among these conversations in SDUHSD is which department this requirement will be housed in.

SDUHSD board members met with English and Social Sciences Chairs to discuss how the district will meet this standard, according to Associate Superintendent of Educational and Student Services Bryan Marcus.

“There’s a lot of openness to this graduation requirement that is very complex and is very unique to how we adopt [the requirement in schools],” Marcus said. “It could be in a math class, it could be in an English class, it could be in a social science class.”

Due to this, the way an Ethnic Studies course looks at one high school could be different from the way it looks at another; however, both will meet the state standards.

In the Sweetwater Union School District, plans for this requirement include a stand-alone Ethnic Studies course, according to SUHSD Board Member Nicholas Segura.

“They are thinking about starting in ninth grade because there is no history requirement,” Segura said.

SUHSD is considering offering the class as a mandatory elective for students by the 2024-25 school year. This means that students would take a year-long course, such as the African- American or Chicano Studies elective already in place on some SUHSD campuses, to meet the Ethnic Studies course requirement. The San Diego Unified School District also has courses that would meet the Ethnic Studies requirement already in place, according to their website.

SDUHSD currently plans to create a new curriculum to meet this requirement, with a pilot model projected to be offered in the 2024-2025 school year, according to Marcus.

“My guess is that [the requirement] will be integrated into a current course rather than a stand-alone course because that creates some pretty significant master schedule implications,” TPHS Principal Rob Coppo said. “There seems to be some logic in embedding it into English. You don’t have a freshman social science class.”

The other option considered was to implement the requirement into a social science class — a debate over which department would feature the requirement that sparked conversations among faculty.

“I think the historical component is really important, and that’s not my forte as an English teacher,” English Department Chair Lisa Callender said.

Social Science Department Chair Catherine Mintz declined Falconer requests for comment, as well as two other English teachers and three other social science teachers.

With the proposed plan to implement the requirement into an existing course, Callender said, if added to an English class, Ethnic Studies would add “new life” to current western-centered English curriculum.

“I think it would really benefit everyone to hear about how some of our greatest contributors to American history and society were people of color or immigrants,” Callender said.

Coppo voiced similar sentiments.

“I think it’s an essential learning piece for our students if they are going to truly be global citizens and contribute to the community locally and on a larger scale,” Coppo said.

Fabiola Theberge (12) and Sofia Behrend (12), previous students of Social Justice — a course offered at TPHS in the 2021-2022 school year — said Ethnic Studies curriculum would be a “valuable” offering at TPHS.

Social Justice, which examined current events and the experiences of marginalized groups in America, taught Theberge and Behrend to “be opinionated” and “respectfully disagree.”

AP Government teacher Micheal Montgomery, who previously taught this class, was among the teachers who declined to comment for this article.

At Canyon Crest Academy, students also voiced opinions on the Ethnic Studies requirement, forming a committee that has spoken with several teachers on their campus about how the course should be implemented.

“It’s important that we work on communicating with teachers and thoroughly read through the curriculum,” Hayden Chang, a junior at CCA and a member of the CCA Ethnic Studies Committee, said. “There’s no point in implementing Ethnic Studies curriculum without doing it well researched; otherwise, you’re just checking off a box.”

TPHS does not have such a student committee and the two ASB Diversity, Equity, Inclusion officers declined Falconer requests to comment for this article.

Whichever approach the district takes to implementing this requirement — creating a new class or implementing it into existing curriculum — the available funds from the state are approximately $200,000, according to Marcus.

“We are taking the time to build capacity around what this graduation requirement is [and] how we’re listening to student experience and how we are training our teachers to make sure that they feel confident and they understand what they’re teaching in order to be in alignment with the graduation requirement,” Marcus said.

Photo by Caroline Hunt/Falconer

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