The Orange County Department of Education (OCDE) held an ethnic studies colloquium hosted by district superintendent Al Mijares on July 21, less than a week before the Orange County Board of Education (OCBE) is scheduled to hold a similar forum.
OCDE’s discussion, titled “With Liberty and Justice for All: A Colloquium on Ethnic Studies,” featured eight speakers, including four Orange County superintendents, whose districts either have ethnic studies courses or plan to offer them.
“I think we heard a lot of rhetoric … that really did not get into details,” Ken Williams, vice president of OCBE, told The Epoch Times. “This is a very divisive issue. Mijares tried to deflect that there’s a lot of misinformation out there. Well, his forum was misinformation because it didn’t present the entire perspective of what’s going on there in ethnic studies.”
Ethnic studies is an optional course that studies race and ethnicity in the United States, with an emphasis on the experiences of people of color, or nonwhites.
Critics of ethnic studies say the course teaches critical race theory (CRT), an ideology that divides society into oppressors and the oppressed based on characteristics such as race, sex, class, or sexual proclivities.
“To be clear, ethnic studies is not synonymous with critical race theory … [however], we also cannot omit structural injustices from our history,” Mijares said during the colloquium.
Kimberly Young, a high school ethnic studies teacher at the Culver City Unified School District, was asked by Mijares if she were to teach CRT, how she would do it.
Young replied that CRT isn’t present in her classroom and that she isn’t a “legal scholar” and therefore couldn’t provide details on how she would teach it.
“[CRT] is not present in my course in the way that I think a lot of times people are thinking that critical race theory is really present in ethnic studies courses,” Young said.
However, Young said it’s important for ethnic studies teachers to understand CRT to “dispel any myths around critical race theory” during a classroom discussion.
“[CRT] is in the model curriculum; it is defined in the model curriculum. … [It] talks about systems and institutions; it doesn’t talk about individuals or individual actors,” Young said.
Tustin Unified School District Superintendent Gregory Franklin said ethnic studies should be embedded into other courses along with offering a standalone course.
“We’re going to work in diversifying our curriculum—the novels kids read, the authors that are available, the stories they have available,” Franklin said during the colloquium.
Williams said OCBE’s ethnic studies forum will discuss more controversial aspects of CRT that were “purposely omitted” during OCDE’s colloquium.
Speakers of the colloquium joined in virtually, arguing that an ethnic studies course helps students better “see themselves” and their minority peers.
New legislation AB 101, if approved by the legislature and signed into law, would require all districts in California to offer an ethnic studies course by 2025 and make it a graduation requirement by 2030.
OCBE will hold its own ethnic studies forum on July 27, which will feature five speakers and will be moderated by Republican congressional candidate Joe Collins.
“We hope that the timely public forum will help shed light on the proper and legal implementation of California’s ethnic studies model curriculum in relation to a growing national debate on critical race theory,” Mari Barke, the OCBE’s newly elected president, said in a statement.
OCBE Trustee Lisa Sparks said in a statement: “The public in Orange County is entitled to transparent access to scientific and objective information regarding such consequential topics as ethnic studies and critical race theory. District-level implementation of ethnic studies in Orange County’s public schools will have a direct impact on student achievement and community engagement.”