State Watch

California becomes first state to mandate high school ethnic studies course

California is now the first state to mandate that students take an ethnic studies course to graduate high school.

Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) on Friday signed into law Assembly Bill 101, which requires local education agencies and charter schools that serve students in grades nine through 12 to offer a one-semester ethnic studies class beginning in the 2025-2026 school year, the governor’s office said in a statement.

The legislation also requires students to complete such a course beginning with the graduating class of 2029-2030. 

In a letter announcing the signing, Newsom said ethnic studies courses “enable students to learn their own stories, and those of their classmates” and “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,” he wrote. “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.”

Friday’s signing comes after five years of scrutiny surrounding the bill. Newsom rejected a nearly identical version last year because he wanted the curriculum guide for ethnic studies to be more inclusive, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The California Board of Education adopted a model curriculum for ethnic studies in March that focuses on African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans and Indigenous peoples, according to The Associated Press.

The curriculum also reportedly includes lesson plans on Jewish Americans, Arab Americans, Sikh Americans and Armenian Americans. 

The California law comes amid a push by conservatives to limit the teaching of certain topics surrounding race, notably critical race theory.

The theory, which was developed decades ago, examines the role that institutional racism played in the nation’s founding. Several states have either considered passing or passed legislation banning it.

Tags California Critical race theory Ethnic studies Gavin Newsom Institutional racism

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