In light of a new discovery by the Foundation Against Intolerance & Racism (FAIR) that California’s new ethnic studies requirement is likely inoperative, more than a thousand Californians on Tuesday petitioned members of the California Legislative Jewish Caucus to keep the requirement unfunded.
Despite assurances from these same legislators to the Jewish community that “guardrail” amendments added to the California ethnic studies high school graduation requirement bill (AB101) would prevent required classes from promoting “bias, bigotry and discrimination,” school districts like Santa Ana Unified have adopted courses that include blatantly antisemitic and anti-Israel content. Other school districts, including Jefferson Union High School District, Hayward United, and Castro Valley United, have hired ethnic studies contractors responsible for authoring the rejected, antisemitic first draft of the state’s Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (ESMC). The contractors have made it clear they are intent on implementing ethnic studies curricula even more antisemitic than their original rejected draft. That original draft outraged the Jewish community, state legislators, and the Governor, who vowed it would “never see the light of day.”
However, a new analysis recently released by FAIR argues that the AB 101-mandated graduation requirement is likely, not operative, allowing school districts and the state time to stop this dangerous antisemitic momentum.
FAIR explains that a last-minute amendment added to AB 101 stipulates that the bill is “operative only upon an appropriation of funds by the Legislature for purposes of [the] amendments.” The addition of such a fail-safe amendment after all guardrails had already been amended to the bill strongly suggests that legislators, too, were not confident the guardrails would work, and wanted a way to prevent the requirement from moving forward if it became clear that a biased, bigoted and discriminatory version of ethnic studies could not be kept out of California classrooms. Although some money – a fraction of the estimated $275 million per year price tag of the graduation requirement — was earmarked for ethnic studies in a bill (AB 130) signed into law more than 6 weeks before the addition of the “operative only upon an appropriation” amendment, no funds have been allocated for AB 101 since the bill was passed by the legislature and signed into law by Governor Newsom.
The 1,627 petitioners, of which, 1,165 are California residents, write in the petition organized by AMCHA Initiative, “[W]e believe the Jewish community does not have the bandwidth or resources to keep an antisemitic ‘liberated’ version of ethnic studies out of the hundreds of school districts frantically trying to comply with the presumed deadlines of AB 101.” And they go on to urge the legislators, “If the bill is not currently operative, please ensure that the bill is not funded until these serious problems – especially the likelihood that many schools will adopt an antisemitic ‘liberated’ curriculum – are adequately addressed by the Legislature.”
The petitioners represent 34 different California counties and 206 California school districts. Thirty-eight are K-12 teachers, another 47 are rabbis, and nearly 400 identify as working in the Jewish professional world.
The Jewish Public Affairs Committee of California (JPAC), an umbrella organization that includes JCRC of Sacramento and Silicon Valley, ADL, AJC, Hadassah, HIAS, and numerous California Federations, also recently sent a letter to state officials underscoring the Jewish community’s fear that many school districts throughout the state will opt to teach a version of ethnic studies that promotes antisemitic stereotypes of Jews and Israel.
“Unfortunately, in recent months, Jewish communities across our state have discovered discriminatory content in several school districts, in which antisemitic and/or anti-Israel biases are being adopted in ethnic studies curricula. This comes at a time when rising antisemitism is impacting Jewish students throughout California. Many additional districts are partnering with ethnic studies contractors affiliated with the authors of the rejected, antisemitic first draft of the model curriculum. We believe these contractors are subverting the final state-approved model curriculum, and the number of districts with problematic content is likely to grow. The districts our community organizations are deeply concerned about are geographically and demographically diverse, such as Jefferson Union High School District (San Mateo County), Hayward Unified, Castro Valley Unified, and Santa Ana Unified. Furthermore, these challenges have led our community organizations to invest thousands of hours towards ensuring ethnic studies courses will not promote bias, bigotry, or discrimination against Jewish and Israeli students. This diverts resources away from core Jewish community needs and services,” wrote JPAC.
According to the petitioners who wrote on Tuesday, the stakes are too high to get this wrong. They call on members of the California Legislative Jewish Caucus to immediately clarify for the Jewish community whether the ethnic studies graduation requirement mandated by AB 101 is operative or not. If the bill is not currently operative, the Jewish Caucus is urged to ensure that the bill will not be funded until the serious problems with the AB 101-mandated requirement – especially the likelihood that many schools will adopt an antisemitic “liberated” curriculum – are adequately addressed by the Legislature.