CEO Update on Santa Ana Unified School District

Dear Friends,

This week’s parsha, Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1), is translated “when you enter.” As you may know, it focuses on how the people of Israel should enter the land, and places great importance on our relationship to the land (bikkurim) and to the community (tithing). As I re-read the parsha this week, I find my thoughts centering on the importance given to the concept of “entering” – how the way we choose to enter the land provides a threshold, a doorway of sorts, to the new. In embracing the new, we must be ready to welcome the unknown: new rituals, new rules, and new expectations of how we understand our obligations to G-d, to each other, and by extension, to humanity.
There can be no greater influence on humanity than in providing for the education of our future leaders. With that in mind, I wanted to provide you with an update regarding the Santa Ana Unified School District's (SAUSD) Ethnic Studies curriculum – an issue of great concern for our Federation and the Jewish community at large in Orange County and across the state. Over the past year, Jewish Federation of Orange County has established a task force that continues to be actively engaged in conversations with SAUSD leadership, elected officials, and other stakeholders at the local, state, and national levels to address concerns related to antisemitism, anti-Israel bias, and other problematic content in the proposed curriculum.

The State of California has introduced a new requirement for high school students to undertake Ethnic Studies courses, with this mandate taking effect for the graduating class of 2029-2030. These courses are expected to begin no later than the 2025-2026 school year, and the intention is to provide students with a curriculum that aligns with requirements outlined in Assembly Bill 101. This legislation emphasizes the importance of culturally relevant content and pedagogy throughout the curriculum.

In our discussions with SAUSD leadership, we have raised our concerns about the current Ethnic Studies curriculum, which not only contains offensive material but also fails to meet the standards set by AB 101. Our goal has always been to ensure that all students, regardless of their background, have access to an inclusive and well-rounded education.
We have conveyed our position to SAUSD during meetings with Superintendent Jerry Almendarez, his leadership team, and the Ethnic Studies curriculum steering committee, and will continue our dialogue with the district. We are one hundred percent committed to ensuring a positive outcome for the Jewish community, other marginalized groups in Orange County, and the district's more than 44,000 students.
We are encouraged that the Superintendent and educational leaders have been receptive to reviewing the curriculum, and have engaged in a process to develop a deeper understanding of our concerns regarding the course content. As a result of our conversations, they have:

  • postponed the planned launch of an Ethnic Studies World Geography course that included problematic course content, and committed to review the resources to ensure it is not biased against Jews and is compliant with AB 101;
  • participated in a 4-hour professional development experience, taught by the Institute for Curriculum Services and Federation’s Rose Project, on the history of antisemitism, Jewish Americans, and contemporary antisemitism; and
  • undertaken review of other Ethnic Studies course content that has been identified as potentially problematic, to take steps towards a more inclusive Ethnic Studies curriculum.

We firmly believe that we can drive the changes necessary to ensure that the curriculum aligns with the values of our community and fulfills the promise of a more inclusive education for all. We recognize that there are other measures available to us should civil discourse fail, but we remain hopeful that constructive dialogue will prevail.
As the new school year commences for many of Orange County's school districts, I want to emphasize that Jewish Federation of Orange County is here as a resource for parents and students alike. If you come across any course content that you find problematic, whether within the Ethnic Studies program or elsewhere, please don't hesitate to reach out. We welcome your message to Your insights and feedback are invaluable as we work together to shape the educational landscape in our community.
Thank you for your continued support and engagement.
Shabbat Shalom,
 Erik Ludwig

Erik Ludwig, PhD
President & CEO
Jewish Federation of Orange County