Dear community members,
Having received sincere messages of support, concern, confusion, and disappointment from many of you since my last posting on concerns about SAUSD's ethnic studies courses, I am writing to update you on our conversations with school district leadership. To be clear, we are working in partnership with other Jewish organizations and Jewish leaders throughout our community and at the state and national levels.
Clarifying what has occurred with SAUSD
SAUSD is developing ethnic studies courses to meet the new California requirement for high school students that goes into effect for the graduating class of 2029-2030, requiring these courses to begin no later than the 2025-2026 school year. In our conversations with SAUSD leadership, what has been made clear is that there is a desire to establish ethnic studies course content according to Six Guiding Pillars for Interdisciplinary Learning and in alignment with the requirements of Assembly Bill 101 that will support student achievement through “culturally relevant content and pedagogy across the curriculum.”
In the process of developing the ethnic studies course content, SAUSD has adopted some ethnic studies course materials that promote biased and inaccurate narratives of Jews and Israel. In our meetings with SAUSD Superintendent Almendarez and his leadership team (including the curriculum steering committee), our concerns over biased content have been met by receptive partners who seek to understand, and share a willingness to address these concerns through SAUSD's curriculum review process. We are now in regular conversation to address concerns about course content in a manner that supports SAUSD’s intention to develop an inclusive ethnic studies curriculum, and is aligned with their Six Guiding Pillars for Interdisciplinary Learning as well as AB 101, which states that the course content:
(I) Be appropriate for use with pupils of all races, religions, nationalities, genders, sexual orientations, and diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds, pupils with disabilities, and English learners.
(II) Not reflect or promote, directly or indirectly, any bias, bigotry, or discrimination against any person or group of persons on the basis of any category protected by Section 220.
While the process of curricular change requires patience, we believe that SAUSD’s leadership has entered the conversation in good faith and we are hopeful that curricular changes will happen. We also believe it is a discourse that has the potential to strengthen and bring our community closer together. As the new ethnic studies content is adopted in California's schools, this is a dialogue that (1) holds value for understanding the complexity of developing inclusive ethnic studies content across California, and (2) highlights a burden that Federations will need to help shoulder in our unique position as local community organizers.
A commitment to responsible discourse
There are community organizations and activists that intentionally (let’s also acknowledge that sometimes it occurs unintentionally) perpetuate anti-Jewish narratives in moments when Jews seek to recognize our history as diverse and as a marginalized and oppressed people. The promotion of a singular narrative of Jews, particularly when it is a caricature of Jews as oppressors, is too frequently used to call upon commonly held tropes that are antisemitic, intended to demonize, and are dangerous. The use of antisemitic tropes in the public sphere is painful for Jews and it is the activation of that pain that requires us to seek a responsible and just discourse. While the utterance of individual words can bring harm, the power of discourse between ourselves and others is that in its relational aspects, communication demands mutuality—itself, a possibility for empathy—and in discourse alone there is the potential for new understandings to be discovered, and for that mutual knowledge to have the power to influence and heal disagreement.
Despite what organizations and activists have publicly stated, in our conversations with SAUSD Federation has not requested, nor do we have intention to seek, removal of ethnic studies course content that maintains academic integrity (such as using the Library of Congress’ program Teaching with Primary Sources) or that is within the requirements mandated by AB 101. We simply want it to be accurate and avoid the continued spread of hate against Jews and other minorities.
We believe that a responsible discourse will deliver on the promise of change and will strengthen community relations across Orange County. We also understand, along with our partner organizations, that if civil discourse fails there are other measures available that we will undertake as necessary.
May we all go from strength to strength,
Erik Ludwig, PhD
President & CEO
Jewish Federation of Orange County