The Push… and Pushback of a High School Ethnic Studies Course

Some alumni, teachers, and community members of Fullerton Joint Union High School District (FJUHSD) are advocating for all eight of its high schools to add an Ethnic Studies course as a requirement for the 2022/23 school year. Those pushing for this class are concerned with FJUHSD’s commitment to valuing its students’ heritages and histories. Nearly 80% of the District’s student population are people of color.

Mural at Fullerton Union High School. Photo by Jesse La Tour.

A petition has been created to gather support for the class and as of May 23, 741 signatures have been collected.

Fullerton Union High School alumna Jacquelyn Moran recalls times when she experienced discrimination in the classroom. “At Fullerton [Union] High School were people telling me, “Go back to Guatemala, go back to Mexico,” not knowing where I was from, but just looking at the color of my skin,” she said. Her cruel treatment inspired her to put pressure on the FJUHSD board to make Ethnic Studies a requirement.

There are several teachers who are advocating for the new course including Mike Rodriguez. He earned degrees in Ethnic Studies and History from UCSD and has been teaching social sciences for 17 years. “It is important to ensure that the cultures of the community are represented in the classroom,” he said. “It validates student identity in the classroom and is another way of building empathy and understanding among students.” Rodriguez teaches in the Santa Ana Unified School District and has been informing students of other cultures for three years through the summer program, “The People’s History of Orange County.”

On June 16, 2020, the District’s Board of Trustees decided to remove Louis E. Plummer’s name from an auditorium because of his early association with the Ku Klux Klan after an online petition gathered 27,000 signatures. To further multicultural appreciation and rid the district of racial inequalities, many see Ethnic Studies as the next step.

FJUHSD’s Board of Trustees discussed Ethnic Studies at their May 11 meeting.

Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services Dr. Sylvia Kaufman gave a presentation on the subject. She said that on April 8, the California Department of Education (CDE) developed a model curriculum for school districts that are interested in implementing an Ethnic Studies course, however, the course is not mandated by the State. The Anaheim Union High School District (AUHSD) and Santa Ana Unified School District (SAUSD) have adopted their own Ethnic Studies curriculum based on the model provided by the CDE.

Kaufman also mentioned the AB 101 bill that needs the State Assembly and the Senate’s full vote in order for a Statewide Ethnic Studies class to become a graduation requirement by the 2029 to 2030 school year. She informed the Board that they can also consider adding the course as an elective and perhaps integrating it into the existing social sciences department instead of making it a required course.

While some see the new requirement as a necessity, there are also skeptics.

“The moral fabric of this nation is now under attack, particularly through the means of this new Ethnic Studies curriculum being introduced in the school system,” Dr. Jacob Daniel, a representative for Equal Justice Forum said. “It makes grand promises of diversity, inclusion, and action, but completely disregards the universal moral foundation for essential human equality.”

Logan Zeppieri, another community member, expressed his distaste for the addition of Ethnic Studies into classrooms after reviewing the model for the possible class. “Now they’re trying to use stories as a way to introduce what they want to call ‘group identities’ through intersectionality,” he said. “Basically, they’re removing intrinsic human value…”

Board members took no action at the May 11 meeting, but supported the idea of exploring how the course would be introduced into FJUHSD’s high schools. Student Member of the Board Jenna Beining added her opinion on the proposed curriculum. “Our World History courses only cover Europe, India, Japan, and China, when they really should, in reality, be including Asia, Africa, and Spanish-speaking countries. I think it’s important to make a change somewhere; I just don’t know exactly where that is yet.”

Currently some high schools in the District offer a “History of the Americas” honors course.

Advocates for Ethnic Studies plan on pushing for the course to be on the agenda for the next board meeting on June 8 at 6 p.m.