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Legislature to Gov. Newsom: Make Ethnic Studies a High School Graduation Pre-Requisite

Sponsored by Assemblymember Jose Medina (D-Riverside), AB 101 requires all public school districts and charter schools serving students in grades 9 through 12 to offer culturally responsive curricula reflective of California’s diverse population.

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California Governor Gavin Newsom (then Lieutenant Governor) riding in the Golden State Warriors Parade in Oakland, California 6/12/18

For the second time since he became governor, Gavin Newsom is being asked by the California Legislature to sign a bill that would make ethnic studies a California high school graduation requirement.

Days before the end of the 2021 Legislative session, by overwhelming margins, the State Assembly and Senate approved Assembly Bill (AB) 101. It would require high schools to offer ethnic studies courses beginning academic year 2025-26 and make completing a one-semester course a graduation requirement starting in the 2029-30 school year.

Sponsored by Assemblymember Jose Medina (D-Riverside), AB 101 requires all public school districts and charter schools serving students in grades 9 through 12 to offer culturally responsive curricula reflective of California’s diverse population.

The state has more than 1,000 public school districts enrolling 6.2 million students speaking more than 90 languages. More than three-quarters of California’s K-12 students are non-white: 55% Latino, 22% white, 12% Asian or Pacific Islander and 5% African American.

According to Medina, a former ethnic studies teacher, “California is one of the most diverse states in the country and we should celebrate that diversity by teaching a curriculum that is inclusive of all of our cultures and backgrounds. Ethnic Studies provide students an opportunity to learn about histories outside of the Euro-centric teachings most prominent in our schools. At a time when the national climate drives divisiveness and fear of otherness, Ethnic Studies can play a critical role in increasing awareness and understanding.”

Last year, Newsom, who has expressed support of ethnic studies, vetoed a similar bill, AB 331.

He expressed concerns about the content of the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum that was being developed as a template to guide school districts as they created their own versions of the course. Newsom called the draft model curriculum “insufficiently balanced and inclusive and needed to be substantially amended.”

Initial reaction to the Department of Education (CDE) Instructional Quality Commission’s (IQC) Ethic Studies Model Curriculum was strongly negative. During two years of heated debates, it produced several versions of the curriculum and attracted nearly 100,000 public comments.

The drafts drew complaints from Jewish Americans and other ethnic and religious groups who said their American experiences were being ignored. Jewish Americans expressed concerns that the curriculum evoked anti-Semitic stereotypes and dwelled on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Others criticized the curriculum for taking a left-leaning and politically biased view of history. For example, it defined capitalism as a system of oppression.

Revisions to the model curriculum were made and it was adopted by the State Board of Education this past March. The 894-page curriculum with more than two dozen lesson plans is designed to teach students about the history, culture and struggles of four historically marginalized racial and ethnic groups: African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos and Native Americans. The guidelines also include supplemental lessons on Jews, Armenians and Sikhs in response to public comments received.

School districts and charter schools are not required to adopt CDE’s model curriculum. AB 101 lets them pick the elements they like from the model curriculum— or choose none of them. They can develop ethnic studies courses on their own. The course must be approved by the governing board of the school district or the governing body of the charter school, and the courses must be approved as meeting the A–G requirements of the University of California and the California State University.

AB 101 is supported by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond and a coalition of educators, students, and advocates across the state. Supporters include the California Teachers Association, the California State PTA, Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, California Association for Bilingual Education, and The Education Trust-West.

Over the weekend, at the California Association of African American Superintendents and Administrators (CAAASA) 2021 Annual Round-Up, Thurmond was applauded by the group when he said, “I hope you’ve heard the good news. AB 101, the bill to require ethnic studies as a graduation requirement has been passed and is on its way to the governor’s desk for signature.

“Our babies deserve to learn about the contributions of their ancestors. Our African American children, our Latino children, our Native American, Pacific Islander children, deserve to hear the positive contributions of their ancestors, who helped to make this a great state, and a great nation.”

Also unanimously supporting AB 101 are the five diversity caucuses of the California State Legislature: the Latino caucus, the Asian Pacific Islander caucus, the Black caucus, the Jewish caucus and the Native American caucus.

The statement from the California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC) leaders chair Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena) and vice-chair Sen. Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles) reads, “As chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, I am proud to stand with Assembly member Medina in support of the amendments to AB 101, … it is critical that ethnic studies be immediately included as a graduation requirement to help reduce further racial bias and create understanding. History is often taught with oppression and racism in the periphery or sometimes erased altogether. It is imperative that all students leave our education system with a deeper understanding of the communities that make California and America culturally diverse and strong.”

As Newsom decides whether or not to sign AB 101, criticism of the bill persists.

The anti-Semitism watchdog AMCHA Initiative writes, “My organization is deeply concerned that classes taught using [the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum] will become vehicles for highly controversial, one-sided and extremely coercive political advocacy and activism that will both subvert the educational mission of our schools and incite bigotry and harm against many students…, we believe it is irresponsible and unethical to pass a bill requiring students to take a course that has not been shown to improve students’ academic achievement, and is quite likely to incite strife and hatred.”

Republican legislator opposition can be summed up in a comment Sen. Melissa Melendez (R-Lake Elsinore) made recently. Debating AB 101, Melendez said that ethnic studies is rooted in “critical race theory,” a view that racism is ingrained in laws and government institutions.

Ahead of his recall election on September 14, Newsom will likely avoid signing any bills until after the election, fearing he could motivate critics to vote in favor of the recall.

He has until October 10 to sign the bill.

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California Black Media

Gov. Newsom Announces He Backs a Ban on Cellphones in Schools

Gov. Gavin Newsom wants to restrict the use of smartphones in K-12 schools statewide, he announced on Tuesday. The Governor stated his intentions amid warnings from President Joe Biden on the harmful impact of social media on children. The announcement followed a report released by the U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy that calls on Congress to regulate social media platforms.

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Shutterstock.
Shutterstock.

By California Black Media

Gov. Gavin Newsom wants to restrict the use of smartphones in K-12 schools statewide, he announced on Tuesday.

The Governor stated his intentions amid warnings from President Joe Biden on the harmful impact of social media on children. The announcement followed a report released by the U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy that calls on Congress to regulate social media platforms.

Proposed regulations include warning labels on harmful content that may hurt minors active on social media. The Governor stated that he plans to sign a law that authorizes school districts to limit or ban the use of smartphones by students or require the supervision of a school employee.

“As the Surgeon General affirmed, social media is harming the mental health of our youth. Building on legislation I signed in 2019, I look forward to working with the Legislature to restrict the use of smartphones during the school day,” said Newsom.

“When children and teens are in school, they should be focused on their studies — not their screens,” he said.

In 2022, Newsom authored a letter urging companies in the tech industry to drop a lawsuit against the children’s online safety law he signed that same year. Newsom aims to take online safety laws a step further allowing school districts to ban or limit the use of smartphones to help protect children from the harmful effects of social media.

The California School Boards Association argues that any rules on the use of smartphones should be regulated by school districts as opposed to the state.

Troy Flint, the school board association’s spokesperson, said that school districts should make the final decision on regulations over smartphones.

“We support legislation which empowers school leaders to make policy decisions at a local level that reflect their community’s concerns and what’s necessary to support their students,” said Flint.

The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) supports Gov. Newsom’s plan to ban smartphones during school hours, stating that smartphones and devices distract students from learning and facilitate cyberbullying.

On June 18, LAUSD voted to ban the use of cellphones during the school day.

In a similar light, Sen. Henry Stern (D-Malibu) proposed SB 1283 earlier this year. If passed, the legislation will give school districts more authority to limit the use of social media at school. SB 1283 is currently under review in the Assembly Education Committee.

“It’s just too hard for every teacher, every school, or every parent to have to figure this out on their own,” said Stern. “There are sometimes when government just has to step in and make some bigger rules of the road.”

A similar bill, AB 3216, introduced by Assemblymembers Josh Hoover (R-Folsom), Josh Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) and Al Muratsuchi (D-Rolling Hills Estates), is being considered by the Senate Education Committee.

The bills would take effect in January if passed by the Legislature and is approved by the Board of Education in school districts that support the cellphone ban.

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City Government

Opinion: We Can Protect Public Employee Pensions and the Environment

Before being elected to the State Assembly, I spent nearly three decades of my career as a public employee, serving the Los Angeles County Department of Social Services and the Los Angeles County Office of Education. For almost 30 years, I faithfully contributed a portion of my hard-earned salary to the California Public Employee Retirement System (CalPERS) knowing that someday my investments would be there for me. Today, I am a CalPERS retiree and rely upon my retirement benefits – just like millions of CalPERS and California State Teachers Retirement System (CalSTRS) retirees. CalPERS and CalSTRS know that their fiduciary responsibility is to their members, beneficiaries and survivors.

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Assemblymember Tina McKinnor (D-Los Angeles)
Assemblymember Tina McKinnor (D-Los Angeles)

By Assemblymember Tina McKinnor, Special to California Black Media Partners  

Before being elected to the State Assembly, I spent nearly three decades of my career as a public employee, serving the Los Angeles County Department of Social Services and the Los Angeles County Office of Education. For almost 30 years, I faithfully contributed a portion of my hard-earned salary to the California Public Employee Retirement System (CalPERS) knowing that someday my investments would be there for me. Today, I am a CalPERS retiree and rely upon my retirement benefits – just like millions of CalPERS and California State Teachers Retirement System (CalSTRS) retirees. CalPERS and CalSTRS know that their fiduciary responsibility is to their members, beneficiaries and survivors.

I trust CalSTRS and CalPERS to make sound investment decisions that prioritize stable, dignified retirement benefits for California teachers and public employees. I also believe that the climate crisis is a real, existential threat to our state, nation and world. California can and must act to reverse this crisis and preserve our fragile environment for generations to come. That is why California has led our nation by phasing out the sale of new internal combustion vehicles by 2035 and becoming carbon net-zero by 2045.

As Chair of the Assembly Committee on Public Employment and Retirement, I am committed to protecting the retirement funds of teachers and other public employees. My record is clear. I also represent a coastal district, home to some of California’s most famous beaches along with majority Black and Brown communities that are working to achieve the environmental justice that they and all communities deserve. My record is clear here too: I have, and will continue, to be a champion for protecting the environment.

Last year, SB 252, by Sen. Lena Gonzalez (D-Long Beach), came before my committee, which would require CalPERS and CalSTRS to divest from its fossil fuel investments by 2031. At the time, I expressed concern that teachers and other public employees were largely absent from the conversation – after all, it is their money – and asked that the Author and the bill’s supporters work with public sector labor unions to take a position on this legislation.

A year later, although a few public sector labor unions expressed their support for SB 252, many others did not. In fact, a number of police, fire, and other public employee unions oppose the bill. As a compromise, I offered the Author amendments that would align CalPERS and CalSTRS divestment from fossil fuels with California’s goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2045. It was a real path to divestment that still allowed CalPERS and CalSTRS to take early divestment action if they decided to do so. The Author declined to accept the amendments, which was followed by her decision to cancel the bill being heard in my committee. Unfortunately, this was a missed opportunity to protect public employee pensions and show global leadership by divesting from fossil fuel companies once and for all.

To be clear, if CalPERS and CalSTRS wanted to divest from fossil fuel companies they could – today. Together, CalPERS and CalSTRS have committed over $100 billion in investments to sustainable energy and using the power of their investment portfolios to hold fossil fuel companies accountable. More can and must be done to not just green our economy, but green our public pension systems.

I encourage the author and the supporters of SB 252 to reintroduce the measure next legislative session with my proposed amendments and work closely with our public sector labor partners to find greater consensus with the environmental community on this issue. We do not have to choose between protecting public employee pensions and protecting the environment – we can do both. But we cannot risk the solvency of current and future public employee retirement benefits without consensus from our public workers.

It is their money after all.

About the Author 

Assemblymember Tina McKinnor serves as Chair of the Assembly Public Employment and Retirement Committee and represents the cities and communities of El Segundo, Gardena, Hawthorne, Inglewood, Lawndale, Lenox, Los Angeles, Marina del Rey, Venice, West Athens, Westchester and Westmont in Los Angeles County.

Connect with Assemblymember McKinnor on social media: @AsmTinaMcKinnor

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Bay Area

Pan-Hellenic Council Awards Scholarships to Hundreds of High School Seniors

The San Francisco-Bay Area National Pan Hellenic Council hosted its 49th Annual Scholarship Reception in Oakland on Saturday where more than two dozen local fraternities and sororities awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars to hundreds of deserving Bay Area students.

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More than 200 people attended the scholarship reception hosted by the San Francisco-Bay Area National Pan Hellenic Council. Photo by Chika Emeka.
More than 200 people attended the scholarship reception hosted by the San Francisco-Bay Area National Pan Hellenic Council. Photo by Chika Emeka.

By Tuseda A. Graggs

Special to The Post

The San Francisco-Bay Area National Pan Hellenic Council hosted its 49th Annual Scholarship Reception in Oakland on Saturday where more than two dozen local fraternities and sororities awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars to hundreds of deserving Bay Area students.

The event, held at Merritt College in the Huey P. Newton-Bobby Seale Student Center, honored the accomplishments of high school seniors from schools throughout the Bay Area. More than 300 people attended the two-hour event.

Students received scholarships from Bay Area chapters of the Black Greek letter organizations – better known as the Divine 9 –which include: Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc., Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc., and Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc.

Oakland City Councilwoman Treva Reid (District 7) encouraged students to persevere through the challenges that they will inevitably face in college. She discussed her challenges of becoming pregnant at Hampton University, birthing her daughter, and struggling financially yet sticking it out and graduating from college.

Shanga Goman, the City of Oakland’s former Youth Poet Laureate also blessed attendees with a motivational poem providing guidance to his younger self as a college student.

In addition to the tuition scholarships awarded, the Pan Hellenic Council drew numbers to give away six $500 book scholarships and two dozen gift cards for students.

For more information about the National Pan Hellenic Council – San Francisco Bay Area and about the Bay Area’s Black Greek Letter Organizations, please visit https://www.sfbaynphc.com/.

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