Capistrano Unified Board Approves Cultural Proficiency Lessons for K–12

May 21, 2021 Updated: May 23, 2021

The Capistrano Unified School District’s (CUSD) Board of Trustees approved new “cultural proficiency lessons” for all students during a recent board meeting.

The lessons, which will be taught by counselors and not teachers, seek to “build cultural proficiency, engage students in higher-order thinking, and promote equity, inclusion, and diversity,” according to the meeting agenda.

The topic drew controversy, with a group of parents showing up to the meeting to give public comment. Most of the speakers were overwhelmingly opposed to the curriculum, echoing a sentiment that the lessons are based on far-left ideas and teach students to see what’s different about one another, rather than what unites them.

Gregory Merwin, the district’s chief academic officer, attempted to assure parents that the lessons weren’t the same as critical race theory, a highly controversial nationwide academic theory that seeks to say racism is embedded in legal systems and policies.

“Critical race theory is not included or integrated into these lessons,” Merwin said during the meeting on May 19. “The cultural proficiency lessons promote empathy, accepting differences, anti-bullying, conflict resolution, and understanding prejudice and stereotypes.

“Lessons emphasize appreciation and accepting differences and valuing cultural differences as assets. For example, the kindergarten lesson encourages students to get to know one another, and that, ‘We are all unique, and we are all special.’ And the sixth-grade lesson encourages students to be upstanders to support their peers who are bullied, and to make a difference and help someone.’”

The lessons, which are available online and have been sent out to parents of children within the district, seek to help children understand stereotypes, prejudice, identity, and effective communication and problem-solving skills.

The lessons will take place once per grade, per year, for about an hour of class time.

CUSD said it supports the lessons because it believes they will lead to higher academic outcomes.

“Overall, we believe the lessons will help students better understand themselves, others, and find value in differences,” district spokesperson Ryan Burris told The Epoch Times. “The goal of our cultural proficiency work is to support the social and emotional wellness of our students, which we believe will lead to higher academic outcomes. Part of our overall work in this area includes specific data-driven goals that we will measure annually.”

Critical race theory has been growing in prominence throughout the country throughout the past year, which is likely why so many parents are concerned about it being incorporated into CUSD’s curriculum, Burris said.

“Our work as a school district is to ensure that we clearly differentiate our work in cultural proficiency from that of critical race theory,” he said. “They are not the same.”

Numerous parents of  CUSD students spoke out against cultural proficiency lessons.

“We need to empower ourselves to teach our kids how we are more similar than different,” one speaker said. “This entire curriculum talks about how we are different. No, we are the same. We are one American united people; children are American children. We need to teach them to value what we have in this country, the freedoms that we have.”

Another speaker said: “Why aren’t we teaching them how to empower themselves instead of being victims? That they’re going to wait for a bystander to save them [when being bullied]? We need to have positive examples and help focus ways to build character.”

It isn’t the first time such studies have drawn objections in Orange County.

The Los Alamitos Unified School District’s board of trustees on May 11 unanimously voted to implement new social justice standards in classrooms, despite the protests of dozens of parents.

Follow Drew on Twitter: @DrewVanVoorhis